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The Father Effect: How engaged fathers change children's lives

Do fathers make a difference to children? Psychological research with families says they do.

The “father effect” is a term that can be used to describe the impact a present and engaged father can have on a child’s development.

By being present and engaging, a father can not only help prevent psychological difficulties later in life, but also can prevent a child getting involved in high-risk behaviours as a teen. Children that have involved fathers are, thus, less likely to drop out of school or become involved with crime.

Involved dads lead to better academic achievement

Research has studied the father effect by following children over time and tracking their development as adults. A very large cohort study conducted by Professor Nettle of Newcastle University of more than 17,000 participants found that a father’s involvement also sets up children for better academic performance. These children on average have a higher IQ, which is thought to allow them to be successful in the job-force in the future. Statistics show that involvement of dads, particularly in the child’s schooling, increases the chances of the child receiving an A by 43% compared to fathers who are simply present.

It's well known that mothers have a positive effect on their children, but what about dads?

The relationship a child has with their father in particular is crucial to their overall development and success. A study that compared mother-child to father-child relationships found that when a father and child have an emotional bond, created by an involved relationship combined with emotional availability, the child is more likely to be:

  • More open to the world

  • Encouraged to take reasonable risks, while still ensuring stability and security

  • Braver in unfamiliar situations

  • Able to stand up for themselves

  • Secure emotionally and physically

Dad not being around has a negative effect

A father’s absence also affects the child’s overall health and well-being. A 2006 study showed that children are significantly more likely to experience problems, such as maladaptive behavior, poor academic achievement, low sense of self, and increased high-risk behaviors. Not only is the role of a father crucial during childhood, but is also influential in their child’s future relationships. How a father treats their child impacts how they look to be treated from future friends and partners in later life (Pediatric Associates of Franklin, 2018).

It’s not always easy to know what types of attention children need to best support their wellbeing and development. To receive more information and support designed by psychologists and parenting experts, sign up to our newsletter.

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