Fathers—and men—are an important part of a child’s world. Fathers interact with children differently than mothers. They tend to engage in more physically stimulating and unpredictable play. This type of play can help children develop independence, self-regulation, gross motor skills, and problem-solving skills.


Fathers shape children’s development in other ways. Recent research found that in families with two working parents, when a child’s father used a more varied vocabulary with him or her at age 2, the child had greater language skills at age 3 (Frank Porter Graham Center 2006). In addition, research done with fathers participating in Early Head Start services found that greater complexity in father-toddler play predicted better cognitive and social developmental outcomes for young children (Roggman et al. 2004).


Even without the research, it is clear that involving fathers in the everyday care of their children (whether at home or in center-based or family child care settings) benefits everyone. Programs should begin father engagement campaigns by assuming the best. All discussions about father engagement should be based on the assumption that fathers want the best for their children.


Child care programs and family child care homes are ideal settings for giving fathers opportunities to be involved with their children in positive and loving ways. Men can swaddle, joke, rock, bounce, lift, comfort, care, and hold. Their ability to care for and care about their children is just as fierce and powerful as that of women but may not be expressed in the same way. By making room for fathers in child care, we offer babies and toddlers the opportunity to build an even stronger connection with fathers who affect their lives so profoundly and whose involvement will influence them forever.


Source: Adapted from Rocking and Rolling, Celebrating Fathers as a Resource by Rebecca Parlakian and J. Michael Rovaris, © National Association for the Education of Young Children