The Common Roles of Fathers (page 2)

By — University of Florida IFAS Extension
Updated on Dec 16, 2008


Fathers can be great jungle gyms. Research shows that fathers spend more time, proportionally, with their children in high-energy, physical play than do mothers. In addition, fathers tend to engage in more roughhousing and stimulating play than mothers, for example, using the elements of surprise and excitement. This sets up expectations in children for the majority of their interactions with fathers involving physical play. For example, a daughter hangs on her father's arm and wants to swing as soon as he comes through the front door on his way home from work. Still, this type of play can be very important in a child's life. Physical play not only builds muscles and coordination, but can often be used to teach rules that govern behavior (e.g., taking turns, standing in line, playing physically without injuring someone, etc.). Through the role of playmate, a father can encourage his child's sense of autonomy and independence, which is a major milestone of social and emotional growth.

In addition, play is often termed a "window to the child's world." This means that play can often be used to find out about a child's thoughts, feelings, hopes, and dreams. Fathers can also use play to informally start a serious conversation with their child. In fact, it's important that fathers use this time to talk with their child and to build their emotional bond with them. Too often, fathers miss this opportunity by simply playing and substituting physical contact for verbal interaction.

Principled Guide

The cliché, "Wait til your father gets home!" no longer applies due to the diversity of family types as well as a new understanding of child discipline as guidance, not punishment. Neither should "punisher" be used to describe a father's role, especially because punishment tends to be a negative assertion of adult power. Punishment emphasizes to children what they should not do, rather than how parents would like them to act. Also, punishment may be the result of a parent's emotional reaction to a childs behavior. As a result, a child may feel shamed and humiliated which undermines trust in the parent-child relationship. Also, the child's sense of autonomy and initiative may be undermined, especially when a child's unacceptable behavior is well-meaning. Guidance, on the other hand teaches socially desirable behavior, helps children to learn the difference between right and wrong, and enables children to experience and understand the consequences of their own behavior.

Fathers who serve as guides for their children maintain their authority, but use it effectively. Guidance is a collaborative effort between parent and child that involves an ongoing process of father-child interaction. Agreement between fathers and mothers on guidance strategies is important, particularly when it comes to learning consequences of unacceptable behavior. If one parent allows the child to experience the consequences of his/her poor decision and the other rescues the child from that experience, there will be harmful effects to both the parental relationship and the child's development.

Just as important, when fathers become over-involved in punishing, they often have far too little involvement in rewarding good behaviors. Fathers who want to build a healthy bond with their child need to use appropriate guidance. This guidance must be a balance between correcting unacceptable behavior and encouraging with praise and other rewards for successful behavior.

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