Fathers Have an Impressive Effect on Children's Health

Lara C. Pullen, PhD

June 16, 2016

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has published an updated clinical report detailing the role pediatricians can play in supporting fathers as they care for their children. The report was published online June 13 in Pediatrics.

The report, which is an update of a previous report published in May 2004, reviews new studies on the epidemiology of father involvement and describes the growing importance of the relationship between pediatricians and fathers.

The evidence suggests that the way fathers speak and interact with their children can result in improved health outcomes for the children. Yet, despite this evidence, many fathers face old stereotypes that prevent them from playing this important role in the lives of their children.

Pediatricians can help children and families by encouraging fathers to be involved with their children from birth.

"Fathers today are more involved with their children than ever before, and they want to know from the pediatrician how their child is developing," said Craig Garfield, MD, from Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, Illinois, in a press release. Dr Garfield coauthored the report, and he explained that fathers "want to be included and made welcome in the doctor's office. Especially with more women entering the workforce, more fathers are stepping in to provide care and they want to know from the doctor what is best for their children."

Fathers Share Their Stories

From now until Father's Day, the AAP is encouraging fathers to share their stories, photos, and experiences of fatherhood on Twitter by using #DadsAre. Pediatricians can join the conversation by following the AAP at https://twitter.com/AmerAcadPeds.

Supporting Fathers

As the AAP celebrates the role of fathers, here is its advice to pediatricians:

  1. Welcome fathers and speak directly to the father, as well as the mother.

  2. Introduce yourself to the father and politely explore the father's relationship to the other parent.

  3. Recognize that mothers and fathers may disagree on parenting issues, such as how best to discipline.

  4. Emphasize that fathers are role models, and thus encourage them to use seat belts and discourage them from using tobacco.

  5. Screen fathers for perinatal depression, using some of the published depression scales.

  6. Review the need for parents, including fathers, to maintain up-to-date vaccination status with pertussis and influenza immunizations.

  7. Stress the role fathers have in modeling physical play and activity.

  8. Explore the role of the father in the family (such as living and visiting arrangements) if the parents are not both living in the same household.

  9. Encourage fathers to play an early role in the care of their child that includes time alone with the child.

  10. Inform the family about the challenges of being a father, such as sleep interruptions.

  11. Educate fathers about breast-feeding and the role of the bottle, especially if the mother plans to return to work after the first few months at home.

  12. Discuss how the couple is adjusting to parenthood, thereby emphasizing the importance of the partner relationship in parenting.

  13. Identify and discuss public policies that support fathers' involvement with their children, such as the Family Medical Leave Act.

  14. Include both parents in discussions of medical procedures and written communications about the child.

The authors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

Pediatrics. Published online June 13, 2016. Full text

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