and outdoor activities) and play involving the ma-
nipulation of objects like blocks and Lego, rather than
language based activities. However, a study of Chinese
parents found that it was a father’s warmth toward his
child that was the most important factor in predicting a
child’s future academic success.
emotional difficulties in children—it
is preferable for children to grow up
in a single-person household than in a
While much attention has been paid to the positive
effect of fathers on their children’s intellectual development, a recent Canadian study provides new insight into
the impact fathers have on their children’s emotional
Led by Erin Pougnet, the study found that children
benefited most when fathers:
▪ responded in a consistent manner to positive
and negative behaviors.
▪ set limits that were appropriate and logical.
▪ explained the reasons behind those limits.
According to Pougnet, this approach “helps children
to understand what is expected of them and feel secure
that their parents will both keep them safe and encourage them to act independently when appropriate.”
Previous research has shown that children experience an increase in negative emotions and behaviors
when their father is absent, including:
▪ greater sadness, withdrawal and anxiety.
▪ increased aggression, impulsivity and hyperactivity.
What the Research Means
Parents can take heart from the growing body of research into the father
effect, knowing that greater involvement by fathers is highly beneficial to
All parents, whether male or
female, can learn from the positive
findings on the father effect by
providing children with:
▪ consistent responses to behaviour,
along with clear limits and explaining the reasons behind them.
▪ play opportunities that stimulate
the child’s non-verbal reasoning
abilities, such as blocks, Lego, ball
games, roughhousing, outdoor
▪ a warm and loving home environment that is free from persistent
conflict, and seeking help when these problems
cannot be resolved.
In Peugnot’s research, girls’ emotional response to a
father’s absence was more marked than boys’: “Girls
whose fathers lived with them when they were in middle
childhood (ages 6–10 years) demonstrated less sadness,
worry, and shyness as pre-teens (ages 9–13 years) com-
pared with girls whose fathers did not live with them.
The same was not true for boys.”
Reflecting on these findings, Pougnet says, “One
hypothesis is that girls experience stress and negative
emotions differently than boys when their parents’
relationship breaks down and when they are faced with
things such as discord between their parents, mothers’
difficulties upon family disruption, and negative parent-
At the same time, Pougnet cautions that a home
environment marred by high levels of parental conflict,
particularly aggression, can be highly damaging to a
In her view, “This research does not indicate that
children whose fathers do not live with them are neces-
sarily put at a disadvantage. Because couple conflict, in
particular, was a risk factor for increased intellectual and
Access to parental leave and flexible workplace condi-
tions should no longer be seen as a women’s issue—
these demands are a matter of importance to men,
women and children, who all benefit when fathers are
more involved in childcare.
Dr. Schwyzer agrees that there is much room for op-
timism when it comes to the current generation of dads:
“Our fathers loved us, but often lacked the vocabulary
to express it and the skills to put that love into tender
actions. This younger generation has those tools.”
© SHAO-CHUN WANG / DREAMSTIME.COM
Michelle Higgins, B.A., L.L.B., is a parenting writer, a mother and citizen of Australia and the United States. With a varied career that has included working in a domestic violence agency and as a union organizer, Michelle now lives in California with her four children
and husband. She writes regularly about children’s
social and emotional well-being. This article has been reproduced with
the permission of happychild.com.au. View author information here: