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Involved dads lead to healthier kids, researchers find

Involved dads improve their children’s health and well-being in many ways, research shows. USA Today

After his daughter was born, Bobby Burris, a professional bodyguard, did what he thought fathers were supposed to do: He started working longer hours to make more money.

But he soon realized he was missing the best parts of fatherhood: nurturing his little girl and watching her grow.

“I missed so much,” he says.

Burris, 33, of Cedar Hill, Texas, has since made up for it, spending hours each week playing with Destiny, now 7, helping her with homework and taking her to most doctors’ appointments.

Involved dads such as Burris are making a real difference in the health and well-being of their children, a growing body of research suggests.

“We know that dads who are more involved can contribute really positively to their children’s development,” says Dr. Craig Garfield, an associate professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “And they do it in a unique way that can complement, but not necessarily mimic, the way moms contribute.”

Dr. Craig Garfield. | Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
Dr. Craig Garfield. | Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Garfield is the co-author, with Dr. Michael Yogman, an assistant clinical professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, of a research review, published in the journal Pediatrics, that urges pediatricians and other health professionals to include fathers from the start — not only inviting them into delivery rooms but also making sure they get tips on bathing, diapering, feeding and engaging their babies.

Fathers need to hear that “they can really be successful parents right from birth,” Yogman says.

According to their report in Pediatrics, the journal of the Elk Grove Village-based American Academy of Pediatrics.

• When dads play with babies, the play tends to be “more stimulating, vigorous and arousing for the infant.” Dads also engage in more “roughhouse play” with preschoolers. That can encourage “exploration and independence.” Moms, by contrast, tend to play in a less intense way that provides “safety and balance.”

• While mothers spend more time talking to babies, fathers are more likely to introduce new words.

• More involved fathers have teenage sons with fewer behavioral problems. Their daughters have fewer psychological problems and are less likely to have sex or get pregnant as teenagers.

• Children with developmental delays or chronic health problems fare better when fathers are involved in their care.

While the report focuses on fathers, the truth is that involved, loving, parents — including single women and same-sex couples of either gender — always matter, Garfield says. “The most important thing for a child is to have loving adults who are just crazy about the kid,” he says.