Family dynamics can make a parent feel invisible. All families are complex and rich with unique patterns that get created early on. A dominant parent can emerge because of personality differences and family habits. Both parents, however, have an important role to play in their child’s development. Research shows that children benefit greatly when their dads participate in their lives.
Not so long ago, fathers were often kept out of the parenting loop. The growth of two-income families in our society has recently changed the rules. Biology, however, does not care about societal constraints. Just like mothers do, men undergo hormonal changes when they are about to have a baby, and in the year following the birth of their child. Their testosterone (male hormone associated with virility and aggression) goes down, while their oxytocin (so-called love hormone) goes up. These hormonal shifts make both men and women more nurturing, but there are some differences. Males make oxytocin when they physically play with their child, while females produce more of the hormone when they hug and cuddle with their offspring.
There are many reason why fathers should be involved in their child’s therapy. Studies have shown that fathers not only tend to play more physically with their children, but they approach play differently than mothers do. Rough and tumble activities can help a child who has poor body awareness or needs more tactile and proprioceptive (receptors in your joints that register pressure) input. The increased sensory activity can improve a child’s alertness and interaction. When compared to mothers, studies show that fathers are more likely to use a toy differently than for its intended purpose. The dad’s approach, in this case, is helpful to a child who needs to expand his play repertoire.
In addition, dads have the power to influence their child’s behavior and outcome. Studies show that children who had an
involved father early on in their lives, were less likely to show behavioral problems later on. As a matter of fact, a dad’s involvement is a strong predictor of a child’s positive outcome for emotional regulation, cognition and communication. When a dad wants to spend time with his child, culturural constraints can often act as a gatekeeper. This means that a father’s participation should be encouraged through community education and early intervention services—the earlier the better. Researchers point out that with the proper professional support, fathers of children with disabilities achieve a higher level of well-being and adaptation. In addition, fathers who are supported by their partner participate more in their child’s life.
A father also has the power to alleviate stress on the whole family. Studies show that fathers process stress differently than mother’s do. They can therefore provide a calming effect on the whole family. Their active participation can bring much needed relief to their partner and their child.
Raising a child with or without developmental challenges, is a partnership. Fathers are an important part of the solution and should be encouraged to interact with their child. Please join us in our efforts to include fathers in their child’s therapy time and early intervention services. Talk to your CDI therapist for ideas on how to get Dad more involved.