A Father's Role in Cognitive Development During Late Childhood

As children reach late childhood, school and social life become increasingly important. While the traditional role of the father was to be the breadwinner of the family, society is changing. Studies show how important fatherly involvement is in a child’s life. As a father, your actions toward your child and toward others in the presence of your child can redirect the cognitive development of your child.

School Performance

A father can indirectly affect his child's academic performance by teaching skills important for educational, and therefore cognitive, development. According to educational psychologist John Gottman, author of the book, “Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child,” fathers are crucial in teaching children self-efficacy, or the ability to do tasks on one’s own 1. The improvement in school performance stems from a combination of a fatherly expectations and praise from the father, which children tend to interpret as a more genuine form of praise than that of other adults.

Emotional Stability

An overlooked but still important aspect of cognitive development is the ability to maintain one’s temperament. Emotions rise when conflict arises, but children do not instinctively know how to deal with their emotions, especially those arising from relationship problems. According to Gottman's book, fathers are the main “relationship teachers” for their children. A child learns how to respond to emotional conflict by observing her fathers, both in how her father responds to her actions and in how her father responds to the mom. A father is an emotional role model that guides the development of the emotional abilities of a growing child.

Behavioral Development

Linked to the emotional aspect of cognitive development is the behavioral aspect of cognitive development. The actions of a child are not entirely instinctual, especially when they enter school. In late childhood, the social environment becomes salient to the extent that a child must consider his actions before he acts. But without a behavior class in school, he must turn to his parents for guidance. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the father is essential in demonstrating proper social behavior. For example, a father who is aggressive and obnoxious to strangers in public shows his children that such actions are acceptable, which can lead to poor behavior in the child.

Moral Development

Learning and internalizing proper behavior is more than copying the actions of others. Decisions leading to appropriate behavior can be truly cognitively demanding, especially to children in late childhood, who are beginning to make more important life decisions, such as who they befriend or how they respond to risky decisions. Study after study, such as those performed by the Father Involvement Research Alliance, show that boys who grow up with active fathers tend to exhibit less anti-social and risky behavior 2. Fathers who talk through difficult decisions with their children are teaching morality, causing their children to become amateur philosophers for their own lives. The results can be dramatic. For example, children without actively involved fathers tend to be more likely to engage in drug use or join anti-social cliques.