For many dads, tiredness after a long day at work can be a compelling reason to opt for the sofa rather than actively engage with their children. However, a recent study has highlighted the remarkable benefits in the relationships between fathers and their children when they are actively involved.
This research, conducted by the University of Leeds, highlights that fathers who participate in fun and interactive activities with their children not only strengthen their emotional bond, but also give their children a significant academic advantage.
The study was based on data from nearly 5,000 households, revealing that activities such as reading, playing games, drawing and even singing with their children contribute positively to their school performance. While mothers undeniably play a crucial role in a child’s upbringing, research suggests that their impact primarily influences a child’s emotional and social behaviors, while fathers contribute uniquely to their intellectual development.
Fathers have the potential to exert a “unique effect” on their children’s development, according to researchers at the University of Leeds. However, they often feel constrained from doing so by the demands of their jobs.
Dr Helen Norman, a researcher at Leeds University Business School, points out that mothers still tend to take on the primary role of carer. To optimize children’s educational outcomes, it is essential to encourage and support fathers in sharing childcare responsibilities from the earliest stages of a child’s life.
The results of the study cannot be attributed to the old adage that “two heads are better than one” when raising a child. Fathers bring a distinct approach to their children’s development, characterized by increased physical engagement and activity, encouraging risk-taking and problem-solving behavior.
Activities such as building various small structures, kicking a soccer ball, or engaging in a friendly pillow fight are all valuable experiences that dads tend to facilitate. To carry out the study, the research team looked at a sample of 4,966 two-parent households in England, all made up of a mother and a father in an intact relationship.
The study did not include single-parent families, children of divorced parents living apart, or same-sex couples with children. The data was drawn from the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS), which followed children born between 2000 and 2002 as they progressed through their formative years.
Relationships between fathers and their children should be much closer
Each parent’s involvement with their child was assessed when the children were five and seven years old. Both parents were asked about the frequency of their engagement in various activities with their child, including singing, painting, reading, telling stories, playing with toys or outdoor games. The researchers then analyzed and compared the scores, highlighting the impact of parental involvement.
Overall, the study found that a father’s involvement in the preschool years (around the age of three) had a positive influence on their academic performance when they turned five, particularly in areas such as maths, literacy and motor skills . In addition, fathers’ involvement at age five continued to improve academic performance in seven-year-old children’s Key Stage Assessments (commonly referred to as SATs).
Interestingly, the study did not identify specific paternal activities that had a significant effect. Instead, he emphasized the importance of engaging in a variety of regular activities with children. However, there was a slight pattern showing that reading with children had a positive impact.
Importantly, the study found that the positive effects of fatherhood were consistent across gender, ethnicity, school year age, and household income. This suggests that any father, regardless of circumstances, can make a substantial difference in his child’s life.
For busy dads who work a lot, the study’s findings offer hope. Even just devoting 10 minutes a day to interactive activities with their children can bring educational benefits. Researchers, however, recommend that fathers spend as much time as possible engaging in activities with their children. They acknowledge that workplace demands can be challenging, but also point out that these challenges are partly due to outdated societal expectations.
In today’s modern society, there is a persistent expectation that mothers bear the primary responsibility for child care and education. This expectation, which is often perpetuated by schools and childcare providers, positions mothers as the default point of contact for the child. Therefore, fathers may feel less encouraged to participate actively.
The experts behind this study advocate for change on several fronts. They call on employers to offer more generous paternity and parental leave policies, which could boost employee engagement and productivity while allowing fathers to play a more active role in their children’s lives, the study published on the official website of the University of Leeds.