The Importance Of Dad's Involvement Is Indisputable. A New Report Confirms It.

A new study shows that engaged dads make all the difference in kids’ education.

A dad having a tea party with his daughter.
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Being an engaged dad is extremely beneficial to kids, and new research shows that it might even help them do better in school.

A recent report finds that when dads engage their kids in interactive activities at a young age, those kids test higher in early elementary school. Any way dads can engage their kids helps, including reading, drawing, playing, telling stories, singing, or listening to and talking about music.

For the study, the researchers analyzed moms’ and dads’ involvement with their kids when they were aged 3 and 5 and their educational attainment at ages 5 and 7, as well as the child’s cognitive behavior. They included nearly 5,000 mother-father households in the UK with kids born from 2000 to 2002, who were followed for the Millennium Cohort Study as they grew up.

The research team found that when dads led activities like reading with and drawing with their kids at age 3, those children performed better in school at age 5. The same was true for engagement at age 5 and test scores at age 7. These results held regardless of the child’s gender, ethnicity, age in the school year, and household income.

“Mothers still tend to assume the primary carer role and therefore tend to do the most childcare, but if fathers actively engage in childcare too, it significantly increases the likelihood of children getting better grades in primary school,” Helen Norman, Ph.D., a research fellow at Leeds University Business School, who led the research, said in a press release. “This is why encouraging and supporting fathers to share childcare with the mother, from an early stage in the child’s life, is critical.”

Crucially, having an engaged mom doesn’t mean young kids have higher educational attainment — that association was only found with dads. Moms still were associated with a positive effect, but they had more of an impact on their children’s emotional and social behaviors than test scores. Specifically, children of moms who involved them in activities like play and reading were less hyperactive and had better socialization skills, emotional conduct, and pro-social behaviors. So it’s important that both parents spend time with the kids.

The more time you can spend engaging with your child, the better, the researchers say — but luckily dads don’t need to devote hours and hours to give their kids a boost in school. As little as 10 minutes spent actively engaging in these types of activities with your kid each day can help.

Dads and moms reading to their young kids appears to be particularly important, the report finds, although it may be more important for dads. Sixty percent of kids whose dads regularly read to them (and 57% of kids whose moms did) reached a good level of achievement when testing, compared to just 38% of those whose dads rarely read to them. So reading a bedtime story is a great way to get your quality time in.

Although this report adds crucial information about how engaged dads impact their kids’ educational development, it’s well-known that fathers have huge impacts on their children’s lives through what’s called the father effect. Kids with engaged dads, for example, are less likely to have sex at a young age, are more likely to have high-paying jobs and healthy relationships as they grow up, and have fewer psychological issues throughout their lives.

The researchers speculate that there are two possible explanations for why engaged dads help their kids in school. First, it’s possible that two parents chipping in is better than one, which makes a lot of sense. But secondly, dads might just have something special going for them, and that could play a large role too.