Where have all the dads been? No, we’re not talking about single-mother homes. We’re talking about literature, popular culture, advertisements. Moms, rightfully, get lots of attention for their critical influence on their children’s lives. But dads? They get things like this commercial where they are made out to be Homer Simpson-esque characters: Helpless, inept oafs.
“The absence of literature about dads and their effect on children, up until the 1980s, can’t be considered neglect. It should be considered avoidance,” said Kyle Pruett, a professor in the Child Study Center at the Yale School of Medicine. “We knew more about fruit fly chromosomes than the effect of dads on their children.”
A new advertising campaign called “See How Love Works,” by Johnson & Johnson, is kicking off with a five-minute film about the impact that engaged, involved fathers can have on their kids’ development, in honor of Father’s Day this weekend.
Pruett has spent many hours researching the relationship between fathers and children, and how it affects dads and kids. Some of his findings are featured in a movie, “Distinctly Dad,” in the campaign.
The video highlights what Pruett has known for years: Dads parent differently than moms do, and kids like that. Fathers are more likely to get down on the floor and wrestle with kids, to let them take risks, and to do things side-by-side with their children (instead of acting as the leader). They even hold them differently, and that gives young children another way of seeing the world, Pruett said.
“If you just watch children’s faces when they’re roughhousing with dad, they’re not terrified, they’re interested,” Pruett said. “They enjoy that play. The father as jungle gym is a very common image.”
Pruett has found that fathers tend to give their children “a slightly longer tether” to explore the world, and that while moms try to tip circumstances in their child’s favor to build their self-esteem, many fathers are willing to sit by and watch for a bit while a child gets frustrated and works problems out for himself.
“They’ll will let them skin a knee or not tie their shoes for them immediately,” Pruett said. “They want them to feel what it’s like to solve this on their own.”
By actively engaged fathers, Pruett means dads who help with the physical and emotional care of their children; know who their friends are; and are aware of their child’s weaknesses, strengths, likes and dislikes.
“You have to have some skin in the game for the child to believe you when you say ‘I love you,’” Pruett said.
That influence from dad can help a child develop key skills, he added. Children whose dads are present and involved are better problem-solvers, better prepared for school and more equipped to handle frustration in social situations.
Research also shows that a father’s vocabulary is the strongest predictor of a child’s language development at 36 months, Pruett said. That is because moms tend to simplify their language when talking to babies and toddlers, he said, while fathers are more inclined to use complete words and sentences, even with very young children.
“It all adds up to a way of loving children differently, but just as powerfully,” Pruett said.
We’re all for that. Here’s to you, dads.
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