This article has been written by Mrs Manila Mathews, Clinical Psychologist, MA, MPhil (Clinical Psychology), Apollo Clinic HSR Layout and Bellandur
In an era where there are self-help books, your parenting guidelines, your parents’ parenting guidelines, doctor Google, the school’s latest suggestions on what’s good for your child, feedback from the mummies school WhatsApp group etc.… any hint of a misbehaved child can bring forth panic.
Behavioural problems in children:
Behavioural problems in children may be understood as any behaviour in a child that’s unusual in a child for his or her age or level of development. These challenging behaviours can be excessive such as being very restless, hyperactive or even aggressive or they can be deficits such as having poor attention or having difficulty interacting interpersonally. Behavioural problems can interfere in learning, restrict access to social opportunities and often require additional manpower and financial resources to manage.
Today, children grow within dual-earner families where work-from-home or away from home are not alien concepts. Parents only want to provide the best for their children. Luckily for us, gone are the days when mothers were referred and expected to be the primary caregivers and fathers the breadwinners. We are also gradually moving into a time when gender roles are less rigid and more flexible.
More fathers today are keen to be hands-on fathers and play a key role in raising their children. But are these flexible gender roles just fancy words that are ill-defined without a clear manual on how to utilize them effectively? There is an overdose of resources available on how to mother a child and why it is crucial for child development. But a random search on fathering children and that too in the Indian context will give you hardly any results. No wonder fathers feel left out, confused and unclear about what role they play and if it matters at all.
What Is Father Engagement?
Father engagement is directly being in contact with your child through caretaking and shared activities. Engagement can be both direct through playing with your child, reading to them or indirectly through taking responsibilities in daily activities, is available for childcare etc.
Do You Think "My Wife Does It All – Why Do I Need To"?
Raising a child takes a village. Research shows that both fathers and mothers play unique roles that are crucial to child development. But since there is easily available literature on why mothers are important, let’s focus on why fathers are crucial.
Fathers play a crucial role in a child’s ability to regulate their emotions, behaviour, school readiness, social interaction within the first 2-3 years of a child’s life itself. Sounds intimidating? It doesn’t have to be.
What Makes Father Engagement Important?
Several studies show that paternal engagement can reduce the possibility of behavioural problems in children and adolescents. Children who are close to their fathers were shown to be less likely to be depressed and withdrawn or show any antisocial behaviours. Positive and strong emotional ties with the father have been linked to lower levels of depression and anxiety in children. Boys are found to have fewer behaviour problems and the girls were found to be more willing to try new things with paternal engagement.
In fact, a study by Oxford University found that a father’s emotional responses to their babies showed decreased behavioural problems in children by 14% at ages nine and 11% by age eleven.
Child delinquency and psychological distress were found to be lesser with children who reported feeling close to their fathers. Another showed that children who were already difficult were shown to have more behavioural problems when the father was uninvolved as compared to those who had engaged fathers. Studies also show that by simply playing with your child, you protect them for externalizing behaviour such as aggression in school settings. Adolescents report of how nurtured they felt by their father was found to be linked to a lesser likelihood of drug use, truancy and stealing.
A Father's Guide
While childcare can seem very daunting and complex at times, it need not be. Simple things go a long way.
- Play with your child
This is one of the best ways to secure your child’s socio-emotional development. The unpredictable character of playful exchanges, rough and tumble play with fathers is more active and physical. This guides children to be more explorative and independent. Studies show that play with the father lead children to have better peer relations and better regulation of emotions which is key to school readiness at 10 years even beyond the mother’s parenting! Mother’s play is more verbal and tending to safety and balance. So paternal playtime matters!
- Quality matters over quantity
In today’s busy world where work-life boundaries are blurring every day; parents often worry about providing adequate time to children. One can be assured that while scientific data suggest quantity is important, quantity time spent with children with poor quality is not very useful for you or your child. So the hours don’t matter, just make sure you spend quality time routinely.
- Have clarity about what you want for your child
Knowing what you want for your child and how you want to provide for these is a job half done. Allow yourself to communicate with your partner about your hopes and dreams for your children. Focus on then how you would like to define your role in contributing to these goals.
- Tips for the mommies- make room for fathering
As much as we may have complaints about how much the father engages with the child, sometimes we find it difficult to let go of the responsibilities and allow fathers to engage or learn to engage. This means slowly learning together what roles you would like to take up in parenting your child and what you are willing to allow your partner to take up. This includes being aware of what gender biases we hold and what we are struggling to give up that impedes parenting together.
The bottom line is paternal time and engagement with the child counts. The earlier the better. Here’s to the village and all the men in the village who shape and continue to shape who we are today.
Image Source: https://www.bbc.co.uk