Why Fathers Are Important to Children’s Mental Health

Even before they are born, children need both parents to be active and involved in their care and upbringing. Learn why fathers are important, especially for children’s mental health.

Moms have long received attention, support and advice when it comes to raising healthy children, and society places a lot of emphasis on mothering. We’re only just now beginning to recognize the need for similar support for fathers. Experts are now speaking out about why fathers are important to the well-being of their children.

Studies show that dads who are actively involved in their kids’ lives provide benefits like higher self-esteem, better emotional regulation, academic achievement and more. Research makes it clear that dads significantly impact their children’s well-being. Their love, support and care help nurture children into their best selves.

“Fathers are so vital, they can’t be absent. When they are absent, that’s when children struggle. At age 2 and 3, children begin to have emotional issues when their father isn’t around,” says Calvin T. Mann, Founder and President of Encourage Me I’m Young, a Detroit-based nonprofit that supports, develops and nurtures children and fathers to reach their fullest potential. Through a variety of initiatives focused on “seeding the lives” of boys, Mann encourages men to recognize their value as fathers.

“We help men understand how important they are. Society hasn’t done a great job of helping men understand that,” Mann explains. “For us, seeding means restoring family to give men and boys the characteristics they need so they can contribute to their households and become leaders as men, husbands and fathers.”

Since 2007, Encourage Me I’m Young has impacted more than 22,000 individuals in metro Detroit, “with the smallest budget ever,” Mann says. “Every child deserves to have two parents.”

Fathers are important for mental well-being

A father’s presence is an essential component in helping a child build emotional resilience and self-confidence. And rather than just more of the same type of support that mothers offer, fathers provide something unique that kids need.

“When we are talking about mental health, sometimes we forget that an important component is you being present,” Mann says. “Fathers prepare children for going out in the world. Dad is playful and will rough-house. This is different from how a mom prepares a child. That’s why we are both so important.”

Research supports this. Play between a father and an infant tends to be high intensity, which provides “intense peaks of positive emotion” that encourage exploration and independence, according to a study published in 2021. The same report says that “children with fathers who were more involved with them in infancy displayed a lower level of mental health symptoms at age 9 than those with minimal paternal input in infancy.” This is a strong incentive for fathers to be involved with their children from birth.

“Encouragement is a powerful tool, and dads are pretty good at applying encouragement,” Mann says. “But we fall short when we didn’t get fathering and think that if we didn’t have it, our child won’t need it.”

How to be a father

Mann wrote a book about fatherhood and shares some tips for stepping up and making a difference in your child’s life.

1. Start during pregnancy

There are so many reasons to be an integral part of a child’s life even before the child is born, says Mann, so be an active participant at this stage. There’s a reason infant mortality is high in impoverished communities where paternal involvement is low, he says. “A father’s job is to protect the mother and the child by being present, by listening and by helping bring them both through the experience,” he says. “Reassure her. She has to deal with a lot, and if she’s by herself, you can’t imagine the damage that does to the mom and the child.”

2. Be present from birth

Don’t become complacent, even if it seems your child’s mother can do everything. Change diapers, be the one to get out of bed, cook meals, prepare bottles, see your child through all the stages. “Go in there and help get your child to sleep,” says Mann. “We are absolutely great at putting our children to bed, hands down. We have a different way that builds a bond and builds confidence, and this supports the cognitive health of our children.”

3. Seek a community of fathers

“Friend men who you see with your own eyes are successful fathers,” Mann says. “This means being involved, caring, teaching, guiding and not being disrespectful to the child’s mom. These are the men you can learn from, so surround yourself with good dads.”

4. Plan for paternity leave

“Stash some money and prepare yourself,” says Mann, noting that the U.S. does not embrace a generous paid leave policy for fathers. “We say we care about children, but we are constantly playing this game, so prepare yourself while going through pregnancy and put some money away so you can take time off.” If you consider taking this time as a healthy expression of masculinity, you are adopting a legacy mindset for raising responsible children. “The best example is your example,” he says.

5. Recognize the sacrifice

Know that being a parent is intense and time-consuming. Sometimes you have to make hard decisions. “I know men who have walked away from high-paying jobs so that their kids can see them, so they can shape the lives of their sons,” he says, returning to the concept of fatherly presence and extending this for the long haul. “When your child hits high school, most parents become hands-off. But your son, especially, will need your experience, your wisdom, your help in staying calm and your discipline.”

6. Get help and support others

It takes 12 mentors to replace one father, and if you’re an involved dad, your experiences are valuable to others. Learn more about how you can support other fathers, especially in the many initiatives of Encourage Me I’m Young. Visit emiyworld.com.

Content sponsored by Ethel and James Flinn Foundation. Learn more at flinnfoundation.org.

Claire Charlton
Claire Charlton
An enthusiastic storyteller, Claire Charlton focuses on delivering top client service as a content editor for Metro Parent. In her 20+ years of experience, she has written extensively on a variety of topics and is keen on new tech and podcast hosting. Claire has two grown kids and loves to read, run, camp, cycle and travel.

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