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Playtime with Dad and the unique benefits for children
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Playtime with Dad and the unique benefits for children

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The modern dad is far more engaged in the day-to-day upbringing of his children than ever before, and it’s reaping unique, wonderful benefits for them.

Gone are the days when dads saw their role as just the ‘breadwinner,’ while the mom stayed at home to care for the children and manage the household. Instead, they see themselves as equal parents from day one. In the past, they may have come home and sat down after a long, hard day at work, not wanting to be bothered. Now, they come home and change diapers, read stories, cook dinner, and, most importantly, play with their children - whether it’s piggy back rides or activity centers.

And this modern fatherhood isn’t just helping mom out around the house. There is a growing body of evidence that the ‘father effect’ is having a uniquely positive effect on children’s lives. 

The Benefits of Dad’s ‘Rough and tumble’

Although mothers and fathers do often interact with their children in similar core ways, various studies have shown that dads tend to engage in more physical play and activities, particularly when their children are at a younger age. Chasing, piggy-back rides, throwing up in the air, tickling (and more) are all chief among the dad’s playbook.

In fact, a study by the University of Cambridge and LEGO Foundation combining 40 years of research found that this type of play helps children to better regulate their emotions and behavior later in life.

In almost all of the 78 studies analyzed, children who enjoyed regular and engaged play-time of a physical nature with their dad during the toddler and pre-school phase were less likely to display hyperactive behavior, or suffer with emotional and behavioral issues. And particularly children of school age were better able to control aggression, resulting in fewer physical altercations with other children.

But why? Commenting on the analysis, Professor of Play in Education, Development and Learning at the University of Cambridge, Paul Ramchandani, argues that physical play naturally creates situations that are fun and exciting, where children often have to apply self-regulation.

“You might have to control your strength, learn when things have gone too far - or maybe your father steps on your toe by accident and you feel cross,” Ramchandani says.

He explains that it’s a safe environment and situation for children to practice how to respond emotionally.

But is it only this type of boisterous, physical play time that enables fathers to have a profoundly positive impact on their children?

Absolutely not.

Play time is bonding

We know that any type of play helps to develop and maintain the bond between two people, whether that’s a father and his child, two toddlers meeting for the first time, or two school children working together to solve a problem.

And there is a range of studies showing that fathers have a significant role to play in shaping other personality and behavioral traits. There is evidence showing that children who have a strong bond with their dads are more likely to have better self-confidence and independence, and an ability to forge stronger friendships - as well as healthier romantic relationships later down the line. They’re more likely to perform better at school, with a better vocabulary and more complex language skills. 

Activity centers and new ways to play

It’s not just the rough and tumble play so commonly associated with dads that provides unique benefits for children. It’s any type of play.

Activity centers are becoming an increasingly popular purchase for new parents around the world. They may not have claimed the title of an ‘essential purchase’, but they’re well on their way. While they may vary in shape, size and function, all of the best baby activity centers - like Oribel’s PortaPlay Activity Center - have something in common. They offer loads of different ways to play and learn (and even offer somewhere safe for baby to stay while you pop the vacuum cleaner around the house!) through brightly colored, moveable or musical toys.

Dads are also solidifying the bond with their children in other ways, too. Every game of catch in the garden, every game of hide and seek around the house, every game of cops and robbers, every dolls’ tea party and more - all leading to the long-term benefit of the child.

It’s also an opportunity to get really creative.

Ben has been showcasing the power of dance in building a really strong relationship with his daughter Zara for a number of years. It’s not just great fun and bonding, it’s also a great way for both dad and child to keep active!

Not content with the ‘out of the box’ ways to play, this dad and his kids use their imagination to create huge and (often) complicated Hot Wheels tracks.

Plenty of dads are also taking advantage of the value of gardening with their kids. You could argue it’s not strictly play, but dads definitely find a way to make it fun, whether it’s planting flowers or growing vegetables. And if you’ve got bags of patience and time, most dads will know that any big DIY garden project is also a great opportunity to play and bond. Just make sure they have their own mini-tools and a small section to ‘work’ on to keep them safe. 

Modern fatherhood

We’re closing in on a period in time never seen before where three things are happening; where dads actively want to be more engaged in their children’s lives, where it’s seen as normal that a dad has that level of involvement, and where engaged dads are having a hugely beneficial impact on their children’s lives.

Of course, modern fatherhood is about so much more than play time. But it’s certainly a significant part of it, and we should be actively encouraging even more of it. So get playing, dads!

More information

Check out DaddiLife’s guide on the best kids’ activity centers

The University of Cambridge and LEGO Foundation’s study can be found here.