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Many fathers never realize how important they are to the development of their children. Yet, as early as in Infancy, the father’s participation in the basic needs of a child have tremendous immediate as well as lasting effects. For example, when fathers help with holding, feeding, and soothing an infant, this experience provides the child with a sense of two, rather than a single caregiver. Here, the small child recognizes that not just one, but at least two caregivers are there to provide relief during stressful times and leads to the establishment of basic trust.
Once children enter the toddler years, the father’s presence and time with their young child helps them to better manage separation from mother in order to develop a better sense of self and ensure a more comfortable capacity to manage stress. Toddlers and pre-school children who have invested fathers, tend to be more successful tolerating change and adaptation and also tend to be more popular.
Because fathers tend to play differently with their kids – dads tend to be a bit more “physical” then moms in their quality of play, it assists both boys and girls to manage aggression better and not get as carried away when they play with their peers. This is due to the fact that most fathers will both have fun but also calm the waters when the play gets too rambunctious. This process then becomes internalized inside of the child.
By the time kids become school age, the father then helps boys and girls better understand gender difference. Here, when boys and girls become more identified with either being male or female, fathers help boys better understand what it feels like to be a boy and give them a direct reference model. As when moms provide the same for their daughters, the parent’s gender role is very helpful in helping kids feel comfortable about who they are and who they might become.
And then there is the tween and teen years where the father becomes a frequent buffer due the conflicts between mothers and both sexes as they attempt a more complete separation from moms on the road to greater autonomy. Of course he doesn’t take sides, he rather tries to better calm the waters.
Children who grow up without invested fathers sometimes develop a condition called “father hunger”. These children often experience significant problems with regulating aggression, making friends, and feeling comfortable identifying themselves as being “male”.
Taken together, the roles of fathers are vastly important in the lives of both boys and girls and the dads who enjoy this time and dedication experience the greatest joys in being a father and rejoicing in raising healthier children.
Dr. Keith Kanner is a Licensed and Board Certified Clinical Child, Adolescent, and Adult Psychologist and Psychoanalyst. In addition to a full-time private practice in Rancho Santa Fe, California, he is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry in the School of Medicine at the University of California San Diego where he teaches both human development and also trains medical students how to better understand and relate to their patients. He also serves as the Director of Clinical Counseling for La Jolla Country Day School in La Jolla, California, and is a Clinical Professor at The San Diego Psychoanalytic Society and Institute. Dr. Kanner also sits on the National Board of Directors for Kids Korps USA, which is the largest organization in the country that teaches children and adolescents the importance of volunteering to help the community at large. As a father of three children, he is also a dedicated baseball, football, and soccer coach.