Kids who spend as little as 10 minutes per day actively interacting with their dads – reading, drawing, playing, singing, etc. – perform substantially better in school than kids who do not, says a large-scale study following the progress of roughly 19,000 kids born between 2000-2002. And those results are the same regardless of a child’s gender, age, or socio-economic background.
The implication: more than 18 million American kids who live without a father at home could face significant academic challenges unless their fathers (and mothers) find a way to ensure dad is actively involved with his kids.
The University of Leeds’s Millennium Cohort study found that 3-year-olds who spent as little as 10 minutes per day actively engaging with their fathers, resulted in better academic performance by the age of 5. That same trend continued between ages 5 and 7. These, of course, are critical years for cognitive development.
“Mothers still tend to assume the primary care role and therefore tend to do the most childcare,”noted the study’s lead author, Helen Norman, PhD. “But if fathers actively engage in childcare too, it significantly increases the likelihood of children getting better grades in primary school. This is why encouraging and supporting fathers to share childcare with the mother, from an early age in the child’s life, is critical.”
Researchers also revealed that when fathers and mothers both participated with the kids, fathers’ impact was biggest on academic performance while moms had more of an impact on a child’s emotional and social behaviors.
“Our analysis has shown that fathers have an important, direct impact on their children’s learning,” said Jeremy Davis, PhD and co-author of the report. “We should be recognizing this and actively finding ways to support dads to play their part, rather than engaging only with mothers or taking a gender-neutral approach.”
The researchers concluded that dads must find ways to carve out time each day to spend interacting with their kids. They also urged schools to collect contact information for both parents and to put in place practices to ensure dads were actively involved with their kids on a regular basis.
The bottom line: without dad involved, kids are going to be at a real academic disadvantage.