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The overall goal of any parenting program is to improve outcomes for children, by increasing each parent’s knowledge and capacity as a caregiver. Until recently, some experts say that parenting programs have predominantly focused on supporting mothers.
Now fresh research from the United States has determined that specifically engaging fathers in parenting programs can also boost a child’s learning, development and wellbeing. This has positive effects for the whole family.
Parenting programs can provide extra skills to families impacted by relationship breakdowns, health issues and other social disadvantages. In Australia, parenting programs offer targeted training and education to mums and dads.
According to Professor Anil Chacko from New York University, less focus has traditionally been placed on working with fathers to improve their parenting. A lack of parenting programs designed for dads can have negative implications for the children involved.
In response to these concerns, Professor Chacko recently developed a parenting program specifically designed with fathers in mind. The program enables dads with preschool children to pass on their reading skills.
“Rather than a goal of increasing father involvement, which implies a deficit, a program that uses shared book reading… represents a valued activity for parents and children,” Professor Chacko told the Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology.
Shared book reading also highlights the importance of routines, child-centered time and incentivising good behaviour. Professor Chacko estimates these strategies can lead to 30% improvement in school-readiness for children.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Professor Chacko’s program also benefits fathers. The test group of 127 dads that initially participated in Chacko’s program reported fewer feelings of depression and stress, over an 8-week period.
“Unlike other parenting programs, fathers in this program were not recruited to work on parenting or reduce child behaviour problems, but to learn – with other fathers – skills to support their children’s school readiness,” Professor Chacko observed.
The role that father figures play in children’s social, emotional and behavioural development cannot be understated. Dr Tony Tanious from House Call Doctor trained in family medicine, and a majority of his patients are children:
“Multiple studies have demonstrated that children who receive positive reinforcement and nurturing from their fathers are more likely to have higher verbal skills and cognitive abilities.”
“Positive parenting also enables children to feel more emotionally secure, to be confident exploring their surroundings and to establish stronger social connections with family and friends,” Dr Tony said.
For father-friendly parenting programs available in Australia, visit Parent Works online.
Other resources and information can be sought from Lone Fathers Association of Australia or by contacting your local GP.