The Father Factor

Think for a moment about what you do differently, as fathers and mothers, about setting limits, being affectionate, teaching, playing with your kids, or when you are upset or disappointed with them. Before you catalogue a few of the differences, let's remember that the things you men and women have in common in your behavior with children hugely outnumber the things that are different. A few distinguishing characteristics do seem to matter, however, in positive ways to your kids.

  1. Fathers tend to play with children more physically and less predictably than mothers.You enjoy doing the unexpected, stimulating, sometimes teasing, things to activate your kids as you play. Unlike moms, you tend to use your bodies more in play; like "Dad as jungle gym." We all note that kids do seem to enjoy this tendancy too, although they may not always know when enough is enough. (Dads: Keep your eyes open for this one -- you and your kids can use a little practice here.)

  2. Dads will hang back a little further and a little longer when kids are exploring something they might not have encountered before or yet mastered. Kids recognize this as a longer tether with Mom than when with Dad. That can be a mixed blessing, but Dad tends to offer support or help a little more slowly than Mom. When you tailor this to your child's temperament, it can be an important stimulus to curiosity and autonomous problem-solving.

  3. Dads tend to discipline a bit differently than moms, emphasizing the outside world consequences of acting inappropriately, while moms tend to point out how misbehavior is a source of disappointment in a relationship based on trust. Dad: "You do that at school and you'll never have any friends." Mom: "I'm surprised you didn't even think about how that would affect everyone else."

While this is not an exhaustive list, it suggests how your kids might be more successful in life when they have regular time with Dad. Fathered kids are known to miss less school, stay in school longer, hang in there when frustrated. They tend to have more faith in themselves as problem-solvers. One interesting study even suggests that involved fathering has particularly positive results in our daughters' math competence. And these are just the academic benefits!

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