Children whose fathers make time to play with them from a very young age may find it easier to control their behaviour and emotions as they grow up, research suggests.
Playtime with dad may improve children’s self-control
The study, by academics at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge and the LEGO Foundation, pulled together fragmentary evidence from the past 40 years to understand more about how fathers play with their children when they are very young (ages 0 to 3). The researchers wanted to find out whether father-child play differs from the way children play with their mothers, and its impact on children’s development.
Although there are many similarities between fathers and mothers overall, the findings suggest that fathers engage in more physical play even with the youngest children, opting for activities such as tickling, chasing, and piggy-back rides.
This seems to help children learn to control their feelings. It may also make them better at regulating their own behaviour later on, as they enter settings where those skills are important – especially school.
Paul Ramchandani, Professor of Play in Education, Development and Learning at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, said: “It’s important not to overstate the impact of father-child play as there are limits to what the research can tell us, but it does seem that children who get a reasonable amount of playtime with their father benefit as a group.”
“At a policy level, this suggests we need structures that give fathers, as well as mothers, time and space to play with their children during those critical early years. Even today, it’s not unusual for fathers who take their child to a parent-toddler group, for example, to find that they are the only father there. A culture shift is beginning to happen, but it needs to happen more.”
Parent-child play in the first years of life is known to support essential social, cognitive and communication skills, but most research focuses on mothers and infants. Studies which investigate father-child play are often small, or do so incidentally. “Our research pulled together everything we could find on the subject, to see if we could draw any lessons,” Ramchandani said.
Image: Portrait of playful girl covering father's eyes in park
Credit: Family Equality via Flickr
Reproduced courtesy of the University of Cambridge
The University of Cambridge is acknowledged as one of the world's leading higher education and research institutions. The University was instrumental in the formation of the Cambridge Network and its Vice- Chancellor, Professor Stephen Toope, is also the President of the Cambridge Network.