Indeed, fathers who are sensitive and responsive to their children’s needs actually lead to happier, healthier and safer children, the evidence suggests.
âIsn’t that amazing? Says Dr. Jacqui Macdonald, principal investigator at the Center for Early Social and Emotional Development at Deakin University.
âI was walking the other day, watching a father toss a daughter on his bike down a hill. And she was like ‘I don’t know if I can’ – and the father was like ‘I’ll be there for you’. “
Australian fathers tend to be less warm than mothers as parents, despite research showing paternal warmth is associated with better childhood development.
Fathers tend to engage in what scientists call the “brutality and tumble” game. Falling off a bicycle. Construction of a tree house. All of this – taking risks safely, bending the rules slightly – turns out to be key to children’s development.
âUsually the father will be the one to show the teenager how to push the boundaries and where the boundaries exist,â says Dr Steve Kassem, brain specialist at Neuroscience Research Australia.
Helicopter parenting, where children are prevented from failing, tends to make children fearful and anxious, says Dr. Macdonald. Children need to be allowed to take risks and fail – and be cared for when they do.
âThey are prepared for failure because they know there is a safe place even if they fail or injure themselves to continue caring for them,â she says.
Fathers tend to play more with their children as they get older, the data shows. When Dr Macdonald interviews them, they talk about Make things with their children, playing with them, teaching them – things that seem more suited to older children. âBut sometimes fathers don’t know that infants can also be very playful,â says Dr. Macdonald.
You can imitate their expressions, and they will imitate in return. âThey smile, you smile back. Small infants eventually become hysterical, âsays Dr. Macdonald. âIt shows the child that you understand their mood. “
It took Mr. Murray’s wife, Katie, to point out that the time he spent at home didn’t really make sense. He took it as a challenge and put an alarm on his phone: he would focus on his kids for just eight minutes a day, every day.
âSurprisingly, disappointing, I didn’t find it as easy as I thought. I realized how much time I was spending with my children, but not necessarily with them, without spending quality time with them.
Mr. Murray, who now works for the Fathering Project, began to prepare before returning home from work. What could he do? What could he say? What happened in their life today?
It seems to be working.
âI see a lot of parents, their children turn to teenagers and I see them start to lose touch with them. And my kids are coming to that age, and I still think the connection is really strong, âsaid Murray.
“And I think part of that I can go back to time spent with them, showing them that they are really important and I will listen to them.”
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