When it comes to cognitive skills, child development researchers want to know every element that promotes it. Turns out, one of those elements is…dad! A study found that fathers who are highly involved during the first few months of their child’s life can make a major impact on their baby’s cognitive development.
Summary of the Study
King’s College London and Oxford University researchers wanted to find out what would happen to a baby’s cognitive growth when dad was involved and engaged, specifically during the first few months of life. The study included 128 dads and their 3-month-old babies. The researchers recorded and studied a series of videos of the fathers playing (without toys) with their 3-month-old babies. They brought the participants back in to assess the child’s cognitive abilities at age 24 months.
Using a standardized mental developmental test (Bayley’s Scale) the researchers gave the 2-year-olds scores based on various tasks, such as identifying colors and shapes. Results showed a positive correlation between fathers with a deep degree of involvement and their children’s high scores. Results also showed that dads who had positive outlooks on life were more likely to have children that scored well. In addition, the scoring showed no difference between boys or girls, squashing the old idea that boys benefit from a father’s engagement more than girls do.
Dr. Vaheshta Sethna, from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London, explained that the study also showed that “children interacting with sensitive, calm, and less anxious fathers during a book session at the age of 2 showed better cognitive development, including attention, problem-solving, language and social skills.” This points to how powerful a father’s influence can be when he’s not only actively involved but also using positive words and emotions with his child during the infancy stage.
Takeaways from the Study
The message is clear! Dads who embrace fatherhood and become actively involved, specifically during the first few months of life, are providing significant developmental benefits to their young children. The results of this study:
- Highlight the positive impact active dads have on cognitive functioning.
- Present the importance of dads expressing positive outlooks, sensitivity, calmness, patience, and compassion with their children.
- Show that both boys and girls equally receive these cognitive benefits from dad.
- Emphasize the vital role dads play in the infancy stage.
That last bullet point is particularly important, because it challenges conventional ideas of the family dynamic. Traditionally, it wasn’t uncommon for fathers to step back during infancy, while mothers took the wheel. But studies like these explore a different approach. Other research also shows that dads being highly involved after baby’s birth is good for the parental partnership – so it’s a win-win for everyone involved!
Tips for Dads
Here are a few tips for dads who want to be more involved.
- Learn your baby’s cues and routines
- Understand their states of consciousness
- Read/talk/sing to your baby, even if they’re too young to understand the words
- Be involved in daily care, such as feedings and bath time
- Aim for positive emotional interactions
Although more research is needed, this study explores and shines a light on the unique relationship between fathers and babies.