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The Science of Fatherhood

The Science of Fatherhood

Father’s Day is just around the corner, and it’s a great time to focus on just how important dads are. For many years, researchers believed the mother-child bond was the single most important relationship in a child’s life. But in the last few decades research has debunked that theory. Now we know that dads have an equally important role to play in their children’s lives. Science has proven it – the science of fatherhood.


The father-child relationship, and its impact, is a well-studied and documented phenomenon. Just like women, men experience actual physical changes when they become fathers. And their parenting style affects kids just as much as, and at times more than, mum’s does.

In fact, kids that grow up with a present, engaged dad are less drop out of school early, have sex at a young age or engage in other high-risk behaviours, such as drugs and under-age drinking. They’re also more likely to have high-paying jobs, healthy, stable adult relationships, better self-control and better stress tolerance throughout their lives. Finally, they also tend to score better in reading and math assessments.

In other words, the science shows that kids need their dads.

Dads and babies

Many fathers are now involved in the labour and delivery of their children. And having dad on hand at that critical moment is extremely important. Evidence shows that it leads to a strong early attachment in the father-child relationship.

In fact, in a recent study researchers learned that a father’s brain is actually changed by caring for his infant child. The more caregiving a father gives, the more the brain shows these changes. These changes work together to help dads become more attuned with their babies and their needs, have a greater ability to plan adequate care for their children and provides them with the emotional capability to do so.

Caregiving, present dads have increased levels of oxytocin (the ‘love’ drug) released in their brains during the first few weeks after their babies’ birth. Oxytocin is an essential parenting brain chemical because it increases feelings of bonding among groups.

There are also many emotional, social and behaviour benefits that are linked to dads who are involved from the very early infancy. Most importantly, dads who are actively involved in the baby’s life before, during and immediately after birth, are more likely to remain involved going forward.

Dads and toddlers

As we’ve seen, having an engaged dad leads to great outcomes for our kids – they tend to be smarter with higher IQs and have better self-esteem, self-worth and self-control as they grow up.. And when babies become toddlers, dads can step up to a greater level of day to day engagement by being involved in everyday activities with their kids. This is things like eating dinner together, jumping on the trampoline or playing board games. Toddler love to play, so it’s a fantastic time to build that bond.

Dads and sons

Research suggests that boys need their dads more than their mums at various times in their lives. Steve Biddulph, author of Raising Boys, says that around the age of six, there is ‘a sudden “switching on” of boys’ masculinity’. This is the time that boys begin to look to their dads for emotional direction.

Boys also lean on their fathers more than anyone else when developing social skills that will see them into adulthood. Paul Raeburn, author of Do Fathers Matter, describes the difficulties that boys whose fathers had gone off to war had engaging in healthy relationships with others. A father’s involvement is positively associated with a child’s overall social abilities, including their capacity to relate to others.

Dads and daughters

On the other hand, although girls benefit as much from having an engaged dad as boys do, in adolescence dad’s impact becomes tremendously important, and girls who have a strong relationship with their father take fewer sexual risks during their teen years. Girls with cold or disengaged fathers seem to have learned that they shouldn’t expect men to invest meaningfully in their relationship, so they tend to settle for casual and much riskier sexual encounters.


Most dads today see themselves as equally important in raising their kids. And that’s a great thing, because the science has proven it without a doubt. From birth to adolescence and beyond, kids need their dads. So, happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there who are sitting down each night to a family dinner, kicking soccer balls in the yard, playing Lego and loving their beautiful kids.

Author: Di O’Malley – Founder and Managing Director of Young Minds Health and Development Network, and Counselling Psychologist.
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