How Dads Keep Kids Healthy
It's no surprise that positive parenting affects a child's health and happiness. Countless studies have shown powerful benefits of dad's participation in children's development: Kids of highly involved fathers score better on cognitive tests at 6 months of age, are better problem-solvers as toddlers and have higher IQs by age 3. In school, they get more A’s and perform better on standardized tests. There's an emotional benefit too: These children report feeling less anxious and depressed, and they're more social and empathetic.
But did you know that kids with involved dads are physically healthier too? Studies have shown that kids who live with active, involved fathers are:
- Less likely to suffer a physical accident
- Six times less likely to visit the emergency room
- Up to two times less likely to suffer from asthma
- More likely to be active -- and four times less likely to be obese by the age of 18 -- than kids with inactive, obese dads
And there are benefits for dad too: Fathers who engage with their kids are more likely to feel more satisfied and empathetic with others, as well as less stressed.
Young kids require lots of attention and love, especially when they're sick. So every day, both mom and dad should make 10 minutes of one-on-one time with their kids a priority. Here are a few smart ways dads can get involved in kids' lives:
Be the chauffeur. There's no easier time for undivided catch-up time with your kids than when you're driving home from school or swim practice. It can become important bonding time during which kids open up about what's going on in their lives. Just make sure to ban cell phones to create an opportunity for meaningful conversation.
Get your hands dirty. Do a little yard work together! Your kids will love mucking around in the mud, and you'll get a helping hand digging up the flowerbeds, raking leaves or scavenging sticks for the fireplace.
Build something. Whether it's a living room fort or a kitchen science experiment, start a project together. While having fun, you'll also create precious memories together: According to Harvard University, the more senses you use, the more involved your brain will be in making a memory (which means your kids are likely to remember the experience).
Experiment in the kitchen. You don't have to be a master chef to cook with your kids. For your next weekend brunch or dinner, mix up boxed pancake batter with blueberries, or concoct an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink sandwich together. (Making a mess is the fun part, anyway!)
Read to them. Reading is essential to your child's mental development: As early as the 1960s, studies showed that kids with fathers who regularly read to them were more likely to score better in many important cognitive skill categories -- especially vocab -- than children whose fathers did not. So start at an early age, and do it often.
Tell stories together. Boost your kid's creative juices by telling a story and letting your kid fill in the parts. Play off of each other and, above all, have fun! Research shows that when toddlers chat with their dads, they tend to be more inquisitive and even use a larger vocabulary than when they're talking with moms.
Make a coloring book. If your kid's stuck in bed or if it's a dreary day, make it a bit brighter by sketching the outline of a person or place and asking your kids to fill in the details. If you have a younger kid, draw a full image and give her the crayons to fill your mutual masterpiece.
Share your passion. Whether it's walking your kid through a golf swing or simply explaining why the sky is blue, make sure to discuss the things you love with your kids. They might occasionally roll their eyes ("Dad's at it again!"), but they won't forget those impromptu lessons.
Hug them. Kids need physical attention -- and not just from mom. Snuggle, show affection, love them -- especially when your little one is stuck sick in bed (and all her friends are outside playing).
Moms, encourage dads to get involved. Studies show that when moms are supportive of their spouse’s parenting, men are more likely to be involved and feel more responsible for their kids' well-being. Plus, there’s nothing better than sitting back and watching your family grow closer together. So keep a camera and a box of Puffs tissues at hand and prepare for moving experiences.
-- As told to Colleen Canney, editor and writer