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A few months ago I read a post on Facebook describing the way a father bonds with his children and the mutual benefits associated with their interactions. The article explained that a mother and child will often bond through close contact and that those “baby snuggles” can bring neurological benefits to both mother and child. Fathers, however, received those same benefits through physical and active play with their children. Roughhousing, it said, can improve the development of the child and relieve the father’s stress.

Unfortunately I was not able to find this post to go over it again, but I was intrigued by the idea and decided to research it on my own. I was pleased to find articles that were more scientific than a simple Facebook post. It turns out that several studies have been conducted on this phenomenon and the research agrees: Children thrive when fathers play with them.

A report by the American Academy of Pediatrics pointed to mounting evidence that fathers’ interactions with their children can lead to multiple health benefits. Co-author Dr. Michael Yogman said:

Fathers really have a quite impressive impact on their children’s health, including how well they do in school, how well they get along with friends, and whether children run into problems like substance abuse or delinquency.

A male caregiver can do some pretty neat and special things…They can find their own unique role, especially by watching the baby or child for signs of joy. They should not feel like their only role is to do everything the same as the mother.

Studies even say that mothers and fathers stimulate different parts of the brain in their interactions with their children. One report suggests that fathers influence their children in the following ways:

  • More likely to introduce new words, which can speed language development. In fact, a father’s communication with his 3-year-old can predict language development.
  • Rough-and-tumble play may encourage exploration and taking safe risks. (Calmer interactions with mothers provide safety and balance.)
  • Adolescents of involved fathers are less prone to high-risk behavior and to suffer from depression. Girls show a decreased risk of early puberty, early sexual experiences and pregnancy.

Richard Fletcher, the leader of the Fathers and Families Research Program at the University of Newcastle in Australia, said the following:

We know quite a lot about how important fathers are in general for a child’s development…Rough and tumble play between fathers and their young children is part of their development, shaping their children’s brains so that their children develop the ability to manage emotions and thinking and physical action altogether. This is a key developmental stage for children in that preschool area between the ages of about two and a half and five. That’s when children learn to put all those things together.

Many of the articles I read stressed the same idea: Fathers have their own important roles in the development of their children. Their unique contributions complement that of the child’s mother. Together, parents can use their individual strengths to provide a safe, loving, and healthy environment for their children.

My children seem to have followed this pattern by forming different types of bonds with me and with my husband. Whenever one is hurt, sad, or needing immediate comfort, they prefer to come to me. Nothing feels better than Mom’s hugs to them (and I love giving those hugs!) when they are upset. But I always joke that my husband is “the fun parent.” The kids love when he plays with them before bedtime. They prefer riding bikes with him, getting “horsey rides” from him, and chasing him around the park. Bedtime may be a calmer process with Mom, but Dad is lots more fun, in their opinion!

I wouldn’t have it any other way. I know my contribution as their mother creates a strong, powerful bond. But I can see that the bond they have with their father brings security, confidence, and joy.

What have you observed in your life that shows the complementary nature of a father and mother’s bond?

Is there a father figure in your life who has given you these unique benefits?


American Academy of Pediatrics:

Roughhousing With Dad Crucial for Development, say Researchers, ABC News:

Children’s Services Council, Palm Beach County:

ScienceDirect: Developmental Review: