Early childhood represents a critical time in development, and much of it hinges on the early formation of secure attachments that allows children to feel safe enough to explore the word. The monumental attachment research of developmental psychologist Mary Ainsworth described different types of attachment relationships, but primarily focused on the interactions of mothers with their children. However, children also have important attachment relationships with fathers.
In fact, an independent attachment relationship between the child and each parent is formed within the first 18 months of the child’s life.5 And, fathers’ caregiving and play sensitivity are equally as important as maternal sensitivity in determining toddlers’ later security.6 Research also shows that the attachment relationships between children and their fathers can have a huge impact on self- esteem and social competence.
For example, children with learning disabilities who perceived themselves as more securely attached with their father had higher levels of hope, and reported a higher tendency to see the world as comprehensible, manageable, and meaningful compared to children with learning disabilities who perceived themselves as less securely attached to the father.7
And, increased father involvement (both quantity of positive engagement activities and aspects of parenting quality equally) is associated with increased key early childhood competencies.8 Secure attachments are formed through active involvement and quality, positive care. Fathers should be informed of the vital importance of developing and nurturing secure attachments with their children early in their lives.
As children begin developing into late childhood and adolescence, the mental health benefits related to having an involved and positive father influence becomes more evident. For both boys and girls, father positive care is associated with lower levels of impulsivity and higher ratings of inhibitory control.9 And in low socio-economic status families, father engagement has been shown to reduce the frequency of behavioral problems in boys and psychological problems in young women, while decreasing delinquency.10 Positive father-child relationships help with future interpersonal relationships as well.
For example, as the level of healthy father-child bonding increases, the more an individual will use constructive conflict resolution.11 And, men who experienced interactive fathers are more likely to become interactive with their infants.12 Fathers should be encouraged to nurture their relationships with their children throughout all stages of their childhood.