Friday, June 15, 2012

Playful Dad, Happy Child

Dads often interact with their children differently than moms, and researchers are finding this leads to the development of different competencies for a child, especially in the area of social relationships.

Researchers for the Harvard Study of Adult Development spent ~75 years researching what makes people happy.  The consistent finding was that more than anything else, a person’s successful friendships was the best predictor for happiness.  Successful friendships are more likely if a child has a developed Emotional Intelligence (EQ). One proven way that EQ is developed – especially for a baby – is through play with dad.

Many believe that this influence comes from the way that dad plays with baby.  Typically, Dads:
o   are more playful, engaging in more emotionally and physically exciting activities than mom
o   talk less and touch more
o   engage in more rough-and-tumble play: bouncing, jumping, tickling
o   often make up more unusual and distinctive games

Such rollercoaster horseplay allows a child to experience big emotions such as fear or excitement.  During this time, the child looks to dad for affirmation of safety and begins to learn how to read another person’s (Dad’s) emotional signals – which is key to developing EQ.  Then, when it is time to settle down, the child learns how to recover from those big emotions and calm down.  Such self-regulation is another significant component of developing EQ.  Higher EQ means more successful friendships, which means an overall happier life.

So, a word to dads:
You matter and the way you interact with your child matters…a lot!  To make the most of your influence, consider the following research:

Children do best in terms of peer relationships and academic achievement when dads:
  • Find ways to consciously and playfully bond with baby during daily tasks like bathing, diapering and dressing
  • Engage their child in physical play that is “non-coercive and non-directive” – keeping the tone of interactions positive and allowing their child to “take part in directing the course of play”
  • Validate their child’s feelings, not dismissing or disapproving of them
  • Praise their child’s accomplishments
  • Avoid criticism, humiliation, derogation, emotional coldness, and intrusiveness
  • Provide guidance to their child on how to handle difficult emotions

And, a word to moms:
Moms, we are the gatekeepers to dad’s involvement with baby.   We have the power to encourage it or discourage it.  As other women come to our aid after baby comes, let’s be sure they don’t crowd out dad’s bonding with baby.  If dad is having a hard time soothing baby or connecting with a child – it may just mean he needs more time without our intervention to develop his own style of relating to baby.  And it may go without saying, but dad is less likely to be involved if we are critical of his quality of care instead of appreciative.  Dads will not parent like us…and in most cases, that is a good thing.

For source information and a deeper understanding how to develop your child’s EQ, check out: Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by Dr. John Gottman.

Melissa Chaplin is a fellow mama who helps others close the gap between where they are and where they want to be.  You can reach her at


Melissa Chaplin, ACC © 2012

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