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TURES COLUMN: Ways dads can help their children succeed

In the movie “The Mummy 3: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor,” set before WWII, the wife (Evie) asks her husband (Rick) why he doesn’t say he loves his son more. “I’m his father,” Rick O’Connell replies. “It’s implied.”

Father’s Day is an excellent time to realize how dads can help their kids, in ways which we don’t always realize, which are more than just “implied.” There are plenty of articles that say fathers should help change more diapers, play catch more, and hang around more often. Those are good ideas, but there are even better ways dads can make a difference, according to evidence from a developmental psychologist.

Audrey-Ann Deneault, a doctoral candidate at the University of Ottawa and the University of Maryland, finds that fathers actually are getting more involved in child care.  But there are other ways dads can come through to give their kids the best.

Deneault, writing in The Conversation (a great academic news publication), found “fathers who foster a positive relationship with their children provide good environments for children to learn crucial skills, such as how to interpret others’ emotions and how to regulate their own emotions.”

She adds “As a result, children with a positive relationship with their dads showed fewer conduct problems in the preschool years, and fewer of what psychologists call “externalizing behaviors” at school age — maladaptive behaviors such as aggression, hyperactivity and antisocial behavior. Such behaviors are an important risk factor for the development of later delinquency, violence or criminal conduct.”  This also extends to better self-esteem in elementary school for the child.

It’s important to note that these are positive connections with fathers, not just mothers, and not just surrogates or other possible primary caregivers. And yes, this applies across races, as some writers and politicians use the subject of parenting to bash one race in the vain hopes of elevating another race.  Nobody ever reduced the single parent percentage of one race by attacking the statistics on single parents from a different race.

But here’s the best part. There’s more of a benefit for dads to having a good relationship with your kid than just self-esteem and better behavior. Fathers can teach their children by the quality of their social interactions with basic journalism: the 5 w’s (who, what where, when, why).

“A positive relationship with one’s father also provides a great setting to learn new language and cognitive abilities. Studies of children with their father and mother have found that fathers are more challenging than mothers when they talk to their child, thereby helping children develop their cognitive and language skills,” Deneault writes. “Interestingly, this finding has been demonstrated across a diversity of income and cultural settings.”  She finds that kids with such interactions get a bigger vocabulary, better reading, and stronger math abilities.  And a University of Montreal study found that later in life, such children with these positives relationships with dad get better “higher-order cognitive abilities later in school life … better working memory, planning abilities, and were better able to control their impulses.”

A smart, well-behaved, and confident child is a great thing. But there’s a bigger reason for dads to have that close relationship with their kids. It’s not just the right thing to do, but a fun way to live, knowing you can connect with your children. And that’s something that’s very explicit, not implied.