Traditionally, mothers have taken on the role as the more involved parent, but with changing gender roles, contemporary fathers are taking on a more significant role than they did in previous generations. This is a good thing, because psychological evidence has shown that fathers play a particularly important role in a child’s development. Specifically, fathers guide children in social relationships and in academic performance.
Much of the scientific research that has shown the importance of fathers in a child’s upbringing results from studies that compare children who grow up with fathers to those who grow up without fathers. This research has shown that children who grow up in homes without fathers tend to lack a balance between assertiveness and self-control. Typically, fathers show their children how to control themselves and how to delay enjoyment in favor of “what needs to be done,” such as schoolwork or housework. While mothers may also play this role, fathers tend to be more assertive in this regard with their children, which indirectly stresses the importance of such skills to children.
Educational psychologist and marital researcher John Gottman states in “Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child” that children who grow up with active fathers tend to perform better in school. This result may stem from a father’s teaching of self-control, which becomes important as a child progresses through elementary school to middle and high school, with the resulting increase in schoolwork. However, another potential reason for this perceived improvement in academic skill might come from validation. Children might feel that validation from father is less frequent than validation from mother, and the child might interpret father’s validation as genuine praise of skill. The child might feel interpret mother’s validation as maternal cheerleading instead of genuine praise of skill. This fatherly approval can help develop a child’s self-respect, which in turn, can help build academic success.
Fathers who are emotionally present in a family indirectly teach their children skills that can build stable relationships. When fathers are actively engaged in their children’s lives and show compassion for their children’s concerns, the children themselves become more socially compassionate and active. Research has shown that such childhood interactions have long-lasting consequences for the children, including happier marriages, fewer divorces and being more active in their own children’s lives.
The way that fathers play with their young children differs from that of moms, but a father's style of play -- namely roughhousing or horseplay -- shows children emotions that they do not often get from their mothers. When fathers chase their children or toss them up in the air, these children get a rush of emotions that range from fear to excitement. For many children, this is the first chance to get a taste of these real-life thrilling emotions, and having their father guide them benefits their emotional intelligence. Fathers show their children via body language and speech that children have power over their emotions. For example, after an exciting game of chase, fathers may slow down their body language and speech, emphasizing to the child that he should do the same. After the father calms down and says, “Settle down,” the child will understand that he, too, should begin to quiet down.