All of us humans living on this planet were born through some union of our mothers and fathers. Through our parents, caretakers and teachers we learn the ways of the world such as how we act, how we feel, what we know, how we think, and further whys and hows. All of this helps to shape our overall being. It helps to contribute to our personality, how we move about the world and even influences how we think and take care of ourselves.
For the purpose of this article, I will be focusing on how our fathers (or father-like figures) specifically help to shape and influence our health. This is especially true for fathers who display a healthy overall well-being or have put in the work to facilitate their own well-being.
When it comes to how our fathers influence our physical health, we may typically think of it in gender forms. Since most men have started out as boys, it initially seems most fitting to see how fathers can share their experiences with their sons on becoming men. The lessons, for example, can encompass taking care of their bodies such as proper grooming and self-care rituals. However, for both boys and girls, guidance can include proper eating, such as in this study here of preschool age children. This age is crucial in forming healthy habits as they get older. Also, the role fathers can play in instilling good physical fitness habits in their children has been shown in this research here.
Fathers can also play a role in guidance around growing up in the world tackling goals, how to be productive members of society, properly interacting with people from various walks of life and more. This is especially beneficial if he is really successful in these areas.
Despite some of the more mundane aspects of the role fathers can play, we can also take into account their emotional effects on our upbringing.
The origins of how we process emotions and act upon them has been vastly studied through the years. Some say that it is due to our nature, meaning factors such as genetics, that determine the outcome. Others say it is in how we are nurtured, such as how we are raised in our environment. I am of the school that both factors play a role. The focus will be on the active roles that have been taken with beneficial results for the children.
Fathers Support from Birth
Often the mother is seen as the primary teacher and caregiver in a child’s life from conception on forward, however, fathers can play significant roles from birth and throughout adulthood. There are multiple studies, such as this one here, that suggest when the mental health of both parents during the gestation period (pregnancy) of the baby is appropriately addressed it can help ensure a better mental health outcome for the child. For example, programs/community support for first-time expectant parents included in the study provided preparations for both parents, some for fathers and some for mothers. These instructions provided the How-To’s on knowing basic care and being present in making sure all the baby’s physical and emotional needs are met by both parents.
One program in particular called “Family Foundations” showed great lasting results on the well-being of the child such as the ability for the infant to be soothed quickly (emotional regulation). The results of this program seemed to help children do well and have lasted well into their first formative seven years! This is one of the few crucial times in life that helps to shape a child’s identity.
Other programs for fathers focused on how to be emotionally and mentally present for the child which included interactive play, age-appropriate conversations and more. All of these helped to facilitate a healthy bonding experience, which again, helps the child to know how to conduct themselves amongst others in their world.
Fathers Help to Prevent Mental Disorders
Emotional regulation is another thing we learn from our parents. The importance of the appropriate, level-headed presence of the father helps create a strong mental health barrier by most likely preventing issues such as child internalizing problems. According to research here, child internalizing disorders are when the child internalizes negative emotions such as lack of self-worth, low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, etc. Often the cause can be a variety of stressful factors, such as environment and the type of interaction (or lack of) with parents or caregivers. Children whose fathers speak with them regularly and get to know their child inside and out are better able to regulate their emotions, according to this article here, than those who do not.
When it comes to child externalizing disorders (aggression, temper tantrums, etc.), the father being present in parenting intervention programs, in which there was such as need, as in this study here, helped the children significantly improve their behavior and emotional health.
The main issue that I have observed with dad participation in these programs is, let’s face it, the reality is not too many fathers are comfortable with someone outside their home/family guiding them on how to handle their own children and run their household. So, of course, less than 25% of the parents who participated in this study were fathers. However, the few that did show up had a great, positive impact on their children’s lives which have lasted at least 20 years into their child’s life compared to others who didn’t have their fathers around.
Fathers Help Provide Emotional Clarity
When it comes to looking at life’s problems and the emotions that come with it, most children felt that their father helped to clarify the situations and come up with solutions to things they may be going through, according to this study here. Being able to address and fix issues creates a strong barrier against anxiety and spiraling into depression. This helped daughters and sons have a stronger mental health fortitude in dealing with daily stresses of life.
Fathers Help with Relationship Foundations
Fathers who get along well with others by displaying healthy conflict resolution skills can help both sons and daughters display that in their own interpersonal relationships. Whether it’s how they interact with the children’s mother or other family and friends, children usually look to their parents for guidance as their first teachers. Seeing this healthy dynamic on the father’s end can model how the child does the same in their own relationships. This is equally beneficial as the child grows older into adulthood.
It is no secret that, fathers may have different parenting styles that stem from cultural, and familial upbringing that they themselves had. However, through various studies there have seemed to be a commonality on certain things that seem to work in the favor of an overall healthier child. Dads who do their part in healthy conflict resolution help children to see how to do the same. Fathers who seem to have a healthy way of applying solutions to problems help their children to clarify and regulate their emotions. These are crucial foundations in helping children to be better equipped to deal with life’s challenges that may come about.
Certain programs and therapy/counseling (such as marriage and family) are available for parents who may be dealing with extreme child behavioral cases (You can find out where to get this help here). It is important to keep in mind that these positive effects of fatherhood on children would go for those fathers who, they themselves, have a strong mental and emotional health foundation as well.
Remember to stay active in your self-care!