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Dad’s Role in Play

Written by Pathways Magazine   
Thursday, 01 September 2005 00:00
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“Dad’s role in child play key to later development,” Gottman says.

Today’s fathers want to be more involved with their babies than their own fathers were, and their involvement can play a critical role in a child’s future. That’s the message delivered by John Gottman, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of Washington, and co-founder of the Gottman Institute, to those attending a recent Dads Breakfast sponsored by PEPS (Program for Early Parenthood Support).

Dads Role in Play“Study after study after study is showing that father involvement and warmth and emotional availability to young children predict intellectual functioning and emotional functioning in both sons and daughters,” Gottman told the group.

Dads inherently tend to interact differently with their children, Gottman says. On the playground, for instance, moms tend to voice concern as their children climb higher on the jungle gym, while the dads tend to encourage them to keep going. At home, moms typically take on a teacher type of role as their children grow, while dads often act more as peers or playmates. Moms tend to play more visual games with their children, while dads are far more likely to engage in high-energy play such as tickle fights and roughhousing. Dads are also more likely than moms to abandon a game the child does not find immediately interesting.

These differences play very important roles in child development. For example, Gottman says, “People find that the physical rough-and-tumble play that dads engage in with infants predicts the ability of the infants to control their own impulses.”

According to Gottman, the significance of impulse control was demonstrated through research first conducted by Walter Mischel during the 1960s. In Mischel’s study, preschoolers were offered the choice between receiving one marshmallow immediately or two marshmallows in 20 minutes. Mischel later tracked down the study participants as young adults and tested them again. He found that those who were able to delay gratification as preschoolers were more socially competent, personally effective, self-assertive adults who were better able to cope with frustration, were more self-reliant and confident, and less likely to crumble under stress. They embraced challenges and pursued them without getting sidetracked by difficulties.