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When Fathers Play With Kids

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Daddy and me

Daddy and me

Dad's Play Is Important for a Kid's Development

Involved Dads Mean Children Are More Likely to Reach Their Potential

When fathers, or father substitutes, play and are involved with their children from birth, the benefits are immeasurable! Fathers are more likely to play by rough housing, tumbling, and helping their kids explore their own strength and take risks within safe bounds—all of which build a child's confidence and problem-solving skills.

Although naming such play "Dad's play" may be a stereotype, as in some families it is Mom who is more likely to be wrestling with the kids on the floor, in general, fathers are more often the ones who engage in such vigorous active play.

This is not to say that a father's rough play is more important for his child than when he engages in the quieter reading, singing, and conversational play. Both types of play are important for a child's healthy development. Both types of play can be engaged in by either Mom or Dad. However, mothers and fathers tend to engage in these different types of play with different styles. Even the tone of voice which fathers use affects children in different ways.

Dads Are Influential

This article will explore the type of play that fathers do with their children. My purpose is to encourage fathers to keep involved with their children from birth all through their growing up years. Watch other fathers playing with their children. Share with me some of the findings of how play helps a young child develop.

If you are a dad, keep involved for the sake of your growing relationship with your children. But most importantly, keep involved with your children for who they are themselves. Whether we realize it or not, we influence who our children grow up to be by the interaction we have with them when they are young.

I have included some links to father-friendly sites at the bottom of the page. They are organizations of fathers and father advocates. Check them out for more resources about fathering.

Come on, fathers, let's play!

Newborn with dad

Newborn with dad

The Bonding Hormone Can Be Found When Dads Play With Newborns, Too!

Oxytocin Has Been Shown to Be Present in New Fathers

We've all seen new parents who seem to be so in love with their sweet infants -- mothers who ooze affection, fathers who are animated and fun even when the baby is very new.

It turns out that parents who behave in these two gender-specific ways have more of the powerful hormone oxytocin in their blood than do parents who are less engaged with their newborns. Oxytocin used to be thought of as a woman's hormone because it is associated with childbirth and breastfeeding. Newer studies, however, have shown oxytocin to be present in new fathers, too.

The August 15, 2010, issue of Biological Psychiatry shows the work of Ilanit Gordon of Bar-Ilan University in Israel who led a team studying 80 couples six weeks and six months after the birth of their first babies. During home visits with the families, researchers obtained blood samples and also took notes on parenting styles, noting such behaviors as gazing into the baby's eyes, speaking in "parentese" -- the slow, sing song voice parents often use when talking to their babies -- touching, changing baby's position, showing the baby objects, playing, etc.

Oxytocin levels, which are thought to aid in parent-child bonding, were consistent in both men and women within a couple, and increased as the baby grew older. However, oxytocin levels were linked to different parenting styles for men than for women. Mothers who showed a more affectionate style had the highest oxytocin levels among mothers, while in fathers, those who engaged in more stimulating play were the ones whose blood showed the highest level of oxytocin.

Baby Fingers

Baby Fingers

Fathers and Their Children: A Few Facts

Statistics About Dads and Kids

These statistics appeared in the publication West Kootenay Kids and come from BC Council for Families (see website link below).

  • Nine out of ten dads (in British Columbia) attend the birth of their child.
  • Mothers report their main support after the child's birth are dads.
  • A dad's heart rate and blood pressure are affected by a smiling or crying baby in the same way that a mom's are affected.
  • Pre-schoolers who spend time playing with their dads are more socially adept entering nursery school.
  • When dads are involved with children aged 7 to 11, those children tend to do better academically at age 16.
  • Children whose dads are involved with them before the age of 11, are less likely to have a criminal record by the age of 21.
Walking With My Daddy

Walking With My Daddy

Talking With Daddy: Play and Language Development

Babies imitate those who are attentive to them. Watch in these videos the way the parents talk to their babies and the way the babies respond. Important to notice is the adoring looks in the baby's eyes.

The parents are speaking in what is called "parentese," that is slow, higher pitched speech with the ends of the sentences and phrases rising as if asking a question. Babies are known to respond better to this type of speech. Notice also how the dads leave spaces for their babies to respond.

These are the patterns babies learn early. Even without real words, these babies are having "conversations" with their dads.

Be Sensible: When Is Rough Play Too Rough?

Safety First

Of course, it would be irresponsible to suggest that "rough play" is always good for a child. How rough is too rough depends upon the age of the child as well as the child's temperament.

The first rule is never shake a baby! In the first year of life, a baby's neck is not strong enough to resist sudden jerks and the brain tissue is delicate. You can cause damage to the child's developing brain, especially when you shake the baby in anger.

As Dr. Vincent Iannelli states on his website promoting his book The Everything® Father's First Year Book, "When an adult shakes a baby in anger, the force may be five to 10 times stronger than if the child had fallen." The consequences can be severe and include blindness, deafness, cerebral palsy, seizures, severe learning or behavioral problems, or, in the worst case scenario, even death.

Know Your Child and Their Limits

Don't Overdo It!

It's important to really know your child and to read her cues. Some children do not like rough play. She may experience rough housing as too aggressive. It may scare her.

This can be true for a boy as well as for a girl. There is not something wrong with a child who feels this way. It is just his style and the way he experiences the world. Be wary of his limits. Encourage him to explore his physical capacities without pushing him too far.

If you respect a child's sense of his own limits, you can encourage him little by little to get comfortable with his body and to even learn to enjoy more vigorous play. If you continually push him beyond where he feels comfortable, however, just the opposite may occur. He may put up his defenses and never learn to enjoy physical play.

And it bears repeating -- even if the child may enjoy it, avoid play that may cause damage to the developing brain -- this may include throwing a baby into the air, swinging him around by the arm and leg, or jogging with him on your shoulders. Think of the strength of his neck and the way his brain may be hitting his skull. You can have just as much fun blowing on his belly and laughing on the floor. Consider your baby's age in deciding whether something is too rough for him.

Dad Playing With Toddler

Dad Playing With Toddler

What Type of Father Play Is Helpful for a Child's Development? Well, It Depends...

Father Involvement Research Alliance is a Canadian alliance of individuals, organizations and institutions "dedicated to the development and sharing of knowledge focusing on father involvement, and the building of a community-university research alliance supporting this work."

This article is based on research about what type of rough and tumble play is good for kids and what type can lead to aggression and poorly regulated emotions. It seems that how a father manages rough play is key. A father needs to show leadership and to set clear limits.

What the Research Shows About Father Involvement: Dads Matter More Than They Realize!

Studies in both Canada and the UK confer that when fathers are disengaged in the early months of a baby's life, their children tend to act out in negative ways in toddlerhood. These two articles show extensive research in this area. They are worth reading.

  • Father Involvement Research Alliance
    How a father manages rough play determines whether this type of play helps a child's development of peer competence and emotional regulation or whether the child just becomes more aggressive. A father needs to show leadership and to set clear limits.

When Dad Is Not Home

Sometimes a father cannot be at home with his children. Maybe the couple has separated and the mother and children live in a different house than the father. Maybe the father has to go away to find work or to get retraining.

Whatever the reason, trying to help children understand that you are not abandoning them or leaving because they were naughty is very important. A child does not always understand and may blame herself for her father's absence. This is when phone conversations are a lifeline. Little notes and messages are important, too.

  • ZERO TO THREE: Homepage
    Zero to Three is dedicated to passing on the most current information about child development to parents, early childhood professionals, and policy makers.
  • Parents as Teachers
    This is the home page of Parents As Teachers, the home visiting parent support program available in many locations in North America and some places worldwide.
  • Baby Brain Map
    This site, part of the Zero to Three website, is an interactive baby brain map that lets you know what is happening in a baby's developing brain at different parts of his development from prenatal to age three. Fascinating!
Father and Son on Life's Journey

Father and Son on Life's Journey

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2010 Sheilamarie

What Is Your Favorite Memory of Your Own Father? Tell Us About Your Dad

Gardener Don on May 26, 2013:

Riding on horseback around the sheep on our farm in New Zealand & him stumbling through the "birds & the bees"!

Sheilamarie (author) from British Columbia on August 24, 2012:

@anonymous: That's so great, jercow75! I'm sure that if you are trying so hard to focus on them, they will have fond memories.

Sheilamarie (author) from British Columbia on August 24, 2012:

@anonymous: How cute! When you're a child, it's not so much what Dad brings but just that you are thought of with love.

anonymous on August 24, 2012:

My Dad always liked to bring me a treat when he came home from work or was away. Most of the time it was a Hostess Twinkie but he made such a big deal out of it, it was always lots of fun!

anonymous on January 28, 2012:

I don't have many memories of time spent with my dad that didn't involve the television. I do remember helping him while he was cutting wood. No, I didn't get to use the chain saw, but I helped lug wood and took attempts at splitting it. I think it was one of the few times I remember it being just us. I've really tried to focus on the time I spend with my kids. I want their memories of me of a dad who did his best to love them at all times to the best of his ability. Great lens.

tiff0315 on March 12, 2011:

Lensrolled you back! This is great!

DecoratingEvents on February 14, 2011:

Spreading *Cupid Kisses* on Valentines Day!

Sara Duggan from California on January 14, 2011:

Blessed by a Rocketmom SquidAngel. I don't have a lot of memories of my father as we aren't very close [he is one of the old school type of fathers] but one I seem to always recall for some reason is one rare moment while in church. I was tired and he let me lay my head down to rest on his lap. A very rare moment so is probably the reason it stands out to me.

Lee Hansen from Vermont on January 12, 2011:

I have so many memories of my dad and me when I was a kid. He taught me many things and spent lots of time having fun with all 6 of us. Fathers are very important to children - I get reminders every time I watch my granddaughter with her daddy. They have a special bond that's been there since before birth.

BWDuerr from Henrietta, New York on December 07, 2010:

Skiing, skating, and boating were the activities my sister and I shared with my dad. He also did these off the cuff, totally fantastical jungle bird calls while walking through the house. :D

Anthony Godinho from Ontario, Canada on September 17, 2010:

I have good memories of my dad being involved with us. We are 4 children, so it wasn't easy, but I still remember the fun times!

Sheilamarie (author) from British Columbia on August 05, 2010:

@anonymous: You are obviously really in tune with your daughter and her interests and needs. Every child is unique and some really do need more physical play. "Rough housing" probably is an old fashioned expression and perhaps "physical play" is a better way of naming it. I agree with you that the world of ideas is a more exciting place to encourage a child, but all kinds of play are important and help us learn in the end.Father involvement in terms of your time and interest is what is most important.Thanks for your honest response.

anonymous on August 05, 2010:

Great article, but highly stereotypical. I rarely ârough houseâ with my daughter. I like reading her stories and exposing her to new and exciting ideas. I love to show her new things that push her to use intelligent skills. I think that there is more value in those kinds of activities. Rough housing will eventually only lead to an aggressive child. Iâm not so sure I agree with this at all.