Engaging fathers

Children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing is enhanced when fathers take a strong interest in their development and learning.
Two men and a child in a rural setting

The role of fathers

When fathers feel good about being a dad, and are sensitive and responsive to children’s needs, this contributes to children and young people’s development of social and emotional learning skills.

Children thrive on the feelings of belonging and affection that come from caring and supportive families. Whether families have one parent or two, include step-parents, grandparents or other carers, they can build strong, positive relationships that support children’s mental health. 

A father is a male parent or carer of a child

A father may not be biologically related to his child or live with his child all the time. Some children have contact with a father, while others don’t. He may be a grandfather, step-father, foster father or adoptive father of a child. Some children might have more than one father or relationships with other males who undertake a significant portion of parenting.

There is no ‘right’ way to be a father

Each father brings unique ideas and experience to being a supportive adult, and has a lot to contribute to the mental health and wellbeing of his child and family. Supporting a child and having their best interests in mind is what’s important, as this has a positive impact on their mental health and wellbeing. 

Fathers can be involved with their children through: 
  • engagement (direct contact)
  • accessibility (being available to their children even when they’re not in physical contact)
  • responsibility (taking a role in looking out for their children’s care and welfare).

There are many ways fathers’ involvement with their children, and the early learning service or school, can benefit children’s mental health and wellbeing.

  • Why are fathers important for children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing? 

    The involvement of supportive, significant adults in their lives is positively linked with children and young people’s overall life satisfaction and wellbeing.

    As a significant adult, a connected father may, for example, help increase a child or young person’s happiness and confidence, and reduce feelings of fear and guilt, emotional distress and upset.

    Children and young people whose fathers are emotionally involved (for instance, acknowledging their child or young person’s feelings and helping them deal with difficult times), are more likely to feel emotionally connected themselves and have more positive relationships with other children and young people. They’re more likely to embrace turn-taking and sharing, and likely to behave less aggressively towards their peers. 

    When dads are affectionate and helpful, children and young people are more likely to get on well with their siblings. When they’re involved in their child or young person’s everyday activities (for example, eating meals together, reading and helping with homework), children and young people also tend to have fewer behaviour difficulties and better social skills.

    Babies whose fathers are involved in their care are more likely to feel connected to them as a parent, and, therefore, be better able to handle new and unfamiliar situations, to manage stressful situations, and are more curious and eager to explore their environment.

    Children and young people benefit from quality interactions, where fathers engage and bond with them.

    Young children who receive lots of affection from their dad should have a more secure relationship with him. Fathers can give children a person to trust, to bond with and feel secure around. Boys who feel connected with their dads often have more self-control, while girls connected with their dads often have strong feelings of being confident and capable, and have a positive sense of identity.

    Fathers also parent their child in different ways from other family members – for example, dads can provide special experiences through rough-and-tumble play, which helps develop children’s physical abilities and helps them to manage new and exciting experiences. Good father-child relationships in early childhood are also associated with good relationships between fathers and children in adolescence.

    Read more about how you can support fathers to get involved in their child or young person’s learning community.

  • Getting involved is good for fathers too

    Spending time being involved and taking care of children and young people provides fathers with opportunities to display affection and to nurture them.

    Involved fathers are more likely to see interactions with their children positively, be more attentive to their children’s development, better understand and be more accepting of their children, and enjoy closer, richer father-child relationships. 

    Fathers who are involved in their children’s lives are more likely to be more satisfied with their own lives, feel less psychological distress, and be more able to understand themselves and empathically understand others.

    Feeling involved is also good for dads because they have a greater sense of self, greater general wellbeing, marital stability and relationship happiness. This is because being involved increases a sense of connectedness and inclusion. Involved fathers also have a strong sense of how important they are to their child or young person who can, in turn, be a very important catalyst in men’s lives.

    Be You Professional Learning

    Check out tips for creating and maintaining strong partnerships with families in the Family Partnerships domain.

  • References

    Beyond Blue (2015). Healthy Dads? The challenge of being a new father. Retrieved from: https://www.beyondblue.org.au/about-us/research-projects/research-projects/dads-research.

    Fletcher, R., May, C., St George, J., Stoker, L., and Oshan, M. (2014). Engaging fathers: Evidence review. Canberra: Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY). Retrieved from https://www.aracy.org.au/publications-resources/command/download_file/id/268/filename/Engaging-Fathers-Evidence-Review-2014-web.pdf.

    Sarkadi, A., Kristiansson, R., Oberklaid, F., & Bremberg, S. (2008). Fathers' involvement and children's developmental outcomes: a systematic review of longitudinal studies. Acta Paediatrica, 97(2), 153-158.

    Tehan, B., & McDonald, M. (2010). Engaging fathers in child and family services. Melbourne: Communities and Families Clearinghouse Australia. Retrieved from https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/sites/default/files/publication-documents/ps2.pdf.

    Weston, R., Gray, M., Qu, L., & Stanton, D. (2011). Long work hours and the wellbeing of fathers and their families. Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies. Retrieved from http://www.aifs.gov.au/institute/pubs/respaper/rp35/rp35.pdf.

    Wilson, K. R., & Prior, M. R. (2011). Father involvement and child well‐being. Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, 47(7), 405-407.

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