What's so special about fathers? We get moms to show up at school and help out at child care all the time. It would be great if dads did too, but do we really expect them to?
As an early childhood teacher, I've seen how young children light up when their dads walk in to pick them up - and it's different than when mom comes in the door. It's not fair, maybe, but there is a different relationship between children and their dads than there is with children and moms.
Now there is evidence that a father's involvement with their child has real benefits. According to the U.S. Department of Education, these children are twice as likely to enter college or find stable employment, 75 percent less likely to have a teen birth, 80 percent less likely to spend time in jail, and half as likely to experience multiple depression symptoms.
Both boys and girls show greater verbal strength, higher math competence and higher grade completion and income. They are better at problem solving, have more empathy, moral sensitivity and reduced gender stereotyping. Children engaged with their fathers have less reliance on aggressive conflict resolution and less contact with the juvenile justice system.
Given this information, are schools doing enough to make dads feel welcome? Because education, and especially early childhood education, is heavily dominated by women, there's a good chance dads might be turned off by the usual activities, or even the cute invitation.
Don't let that stop you - you're the dad, remember!
Here are some things dads can organize for their kids. If it's not being offered, suggest it. Believe me, the payoff is worth it:
• Play family games such as kick ball, ice skating or sledding.
• Put on a bike rodeo. Bring in the police department and local bike shops, teach the rules of the road, provide tune-ups and hold a competition.
• Be a lunch buddy. It could be any meal, or even donuts for dads, but that one-on-one time is invaluable.
• Organize a father-daughter dance. What a great time for any age daughter - a chance to dress up and be dad's girl for the evening.
• Host a math or science showcase. Show your kids and other families some fun, hands-on science projects they can do at home. What's more fun than making a mess, an explosion or loud noises!
• Volunteer to be the grill master at the next school barbecue, or have a grill cook-off to raise money for the school. Add games like sack races or musical chairs.
• Put on a putt-putt golf tournament. Ask a local service club, community leaders or elected officials to compete with the kids.
• Family movie nights, indoors or outdoors, at a local playground or pool. I bet everyone will go home tired!
We know that men want to be good fathers, but there are moments when children behave in ways that challenge our understanding and therefore our ability to respond to them.
Being emotionally engaged with your son or daughter about what they think and care about has been shown to build strong social, emotional, cognitive and behavioral outcomes in children.
There are resources to help at www.fatherhoodproject.org.
- Shirley Ritter is the director of Kids First. "Parent Talk" appears on the first and third Saturdays of the month. The column is the result of YouthZone, The Buddy Program, Family Visitor Programs, Kids First and Roaring Fork Family Resource Centers teaming up to provide parents with information and resources about strengthening family relationships. For information, contact Ritter at 920-5363 or firstname.lastname@example.org.