But if you’re here, you probably already knew that.
The good news is that a new study out of the University of Leeds has not only demonstrated just how beneficial an engaged dad really is for children’s outcomes in life…
… it also highlights a few key things all dads can do starting from the baby years, to give their kids the best chance later in life.
About the Study – How Was It Done?
The researchers at the University of Leeds analyzed almost 5,000 mother-father households in the UK with kids born from 2000 to 2002, who were followed for the Millennium Cohort Study as they grew up.
(The MCS is a massive undertaking following 19,000 young people born around the new millennium and collecting data on them as they age.)
The study was what’s known as a longitudinal study — meaning it tracks changes over a long period of time.
According to the official report, researchers “explored the relationships between fathers’ and mothers’ childcare ‘involvement’, their children’s ‘cognitive behaviour’ and ‘educational attainment’ at the start and in the middle of primary school.”
In other words, they measured how involved dads (or a lack thereof) — and HOW they were involved — led to changes in behavior, achievement in school, and other outcomes.
Major Study Findings Explained
According to the official report, when dads engage their kids in interactive activities at a young age, those kids test higher in early elementary school.
And the best part?
Any way dads can engage their kids helps, including reading, drawing, playing, telling stories, singing, or listening to and talking about music.
They also found that when dads led activities like reading and drawing with their kids at age 3, those children performed better in school at age 5 — meaning the effect of early involvement was long-lasting.
The same was true for engagement at age 5 leading to better test scores at age 7.
Pretty amazing, right?
(It’s also worth mentioning that when a dad was involved early, he tended to be more involved later in the child’s life, too. Build those good habits from the beginning!)
The findings do nothing to take away from the amazing parenting work done by two-mom households or single parents.
But it’s clear that having an involved dad (versus an uninvolved dad) provided too many benefits to ignore.
It’s possible that having two parents helping out equally is the main driver of the benefit here.
And speaking of, the benefits of being an engaged dad don’t stop there.
Kids with involved dads are less likely to have sex at a young age, are more likely to have high-paying jobs and healthy relationships as they grow up, and have fewer psychological issues throughout their lives.
3+ Things All Dads Should Do From a Young Age
One thing I love about this study is that, right up front, the researchers list actionable takeaways for regular dads like you and me.
Here are three things they say dads should be doing when their kids are young:
1. Carve out time
Sounds simple, right? Even just ten minutes per day of leading activities with your kids is enough to have a positive impact.
That may sound like a low bar, but it’s harder than it sounds for a working dad who may leave the house before the kids are awake and come home after they go to bed.
However you can get it, claim ten minutes per day!
2. Help out with routine care
Everyone knows Dad is great at the fun stuff.
But he needs to be involved in the routine, day-to-day stuff, too.
Change diapers. Read books. Help with homework. Be involved in discipline and learning proper behavior.
Don’t leave it all to mom! If you do, you’re only hurting the kids in the long run.
3. Get involved at school
Another task that seems to always fall to mom is being the liaison to school.
But when dads make sure the school has their contact info, are looped into communications, proactively reach out to teachers and other parents, kids will ultimately perform better in school.
I KNOW that schools send too many emails and keeping track of things is tough. But don’t let it all fall on mom.
The study also mentions even more ways dads can help secure better outcomes for our kids — but we’ll need a little help.
The researchers call for better and longer paternity leave options so dads can be involved in the earliest baby days, and for more flexibility in the working world so we can get those precious ten minutes per day.
Let’s hope we get the help we need, money and time-wise, to do our best. The rest is up to us.
For more ideas, see my science-backed list of ways to be a better dad starting today.