Did you know children who grow up with a father figure have better abilities to reason, plan and remember?

While women play unique vital roles in child development, research shows fathers, or father figures, such as an uncle, family friend or role model, play an important role in helping kids develop such abilities later in life, said Robyn Haley, senior program manager with Family & Children’s Services Early Childhood Program.

Robyn Haley

Robyn Haley, senior program manager, Early Childhood Program

“So often nowadays, we find that we’re feeling so much of our own internal pressures of what it takes to be a good parent,” Haley said. “What we really need to remind ourselves is children just want our time.”

All children want a positive, loving home environment with routines and clear, consistent communication, Haley said. They want adults to do what they say they’ll do. And, as they age, they want parents to listen to them, give good advice and help them overcome obstacles.

For fathers who don’t have custody of their children, it might seem too tough to be there for their kids.

But often, simple, regular check-ins – say, over the phone – give kids a chance to connect and share everyday activities, Haley said.

Younger children, meanwhile, just want parents to sit down and play with them, doing little things such as coloring or playing games.

That’s something with which some parents aren’t always comfortable.

“You would be amazed by how many individuals feel incredibly awkward doing that,” said Haley, who added that F&CS offers classes, such as our Active Parenting Now class, that help parents play well with their kids.

“So often, we feel like a tree is brown and green, and that’s the way a tree is supposed to be – and we don’t color outside the lines. Blocks are to build buildings. As adults, we get in to what is the proper way to play, and children just want our time.”

Children respond to men’s tone of voice differently than that of women, who tend to be more personal and descriptive, while men communicate briefly, directly and subtly, Haley said. The play is different, too – more active and structured.

Often, men are more comfortable with sports. Engaging in sports play, such as a friendly game of pickup basketball or soccer, can be a great way to connect with kids.

Men, even if they aren’t fathers of the children involved, can play a role and help children they’re around.

Those children do better in school, have healthier self-esteem, get along better with others and make better decisions than those with no father figure.

“Positive male role models to little ladies teach them how someone should be respectful. What are appropriate mannerisms? What are ways you can learn to disagree in a positive manner with our little boys? It’s always important for them to know what their role is in the world. They look for the males who are in their lives as role models, whether positive or negative to understand how to problem solve, communicate wants and needs …”

If there’s a child in your life, whether it’s your own or that of a family member or loved one, take some time to interact with them this Father’s Day. Or any day, for that matter. Not only will you have some fun, but that interaction could change that child’s life for the better.


Resources for fathers and father figures:

National Center for Fathering

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Childhood Welfare Gateway


Family & Children’s Services parenting classes:

1, 2, 3, 4, Parents!

Active Parenting Now

Active Parenting of Teens

Active Parenting for Step Families

ADHD Parent Coaching

Cooperative Parenting & Divorce


Matt Elliott
Social and traditional media producer