Attention, dads! Though your baby will undoubtedly form a bond with his mother before anyone else, your positive parenting early on will yield enormous benefits for your child in the years to come. Powerful stuff, right? Newborns remember certain stimuli from the womb, which results in a preference for Mom right away. Tough break, Dad, but who doesn’t like an underdog? This is why much of the fancy research-talk up to this point has focused exclusively on what mothers can do to build on the early bond that they form. But with more women in an evolving workforce, dads are playing a larger and larger role in the early language development of their kiddos. We want you to know just how large.
Research has found that, in terms of parent engagement, surprisingly, support from fathers was positively associated with children’s emotional regulation at 2 years more so than support from mothers.1 You read that right. So though Mom will be the first person that your baby will ever know, it’s you, Dad, that carries the ability to mold their power of expression. And as Salt ‘N Pepa taught us, “It’s all about expression, baby”.
It is universally understood that involvement and presence of the father in the home is linked to better cognitive and academic functioning for children. Cool! But why? And how does the daily grind of parenting play out for the long-term success of your baby?
Well, since mothers tend to be primary caregivers, their babies become accustomed to hearing the same vocabulary on a daily basis. And since fathers tend to spend relatively less time with their children, the words they use are often less familiar to their babies, which forces them to learn new words that they likely would not otherwise be exposed to.5
Simply put, father-baby language interactions are really important for the development of your baby. A research study from the National Institutes of Health has found that the quality of a father’s language input makes a significant and unique contribution to his child’s expressive language development later in life. From these processes, babies receive information about how to use symbol systems like language or gestures to communicate with others in their social world.
The sad reality, Dad, is that at birth your baby is unlikely to be able to distinguish your voice from the many others that they are now hearing, no matter how many times you read to him while he’s still in the womb4. However, fathers who use a varied vocabulary in their interactions with their baby at 6 months give their baby better expressive language skills at 15 months of age. And with better expressive language skills and continued, unique conversations, babies are further ahead in language development at 36 months of age.5 Magic! Therefore continuous, high-quality interactions from the father during those toddler years dramatically contribute to more advanced child language development at 3 years of age. That’s right before your little guy is ready to shine in preschool.
The best part? These relationships were found even after controlling for key family demographic factors. Dad, this means that your level of education, income, and race are not a barrier to raising the smartest baby possible!
Saying that, let’s bring Mom back in. All of this research is not meant to say that mothers don’t play a significant role in their children’s development. That’s silly. Research shows that mothers are the ones that establish the baseline for vocabulary that babies grow accustomed to over longer periods of engagement. A higher baseline means more advanced development when Dad comes along and introduces new words to the baby.
So what does this mean on a day-to-day basis? At VersaMe, we believe that babies and their brains are the best learners around. It’s actually scary how much their little brains can soak up. According to one study, 86 to 98 percent of the words recorded in each child’s vocabulary consist of words also recorded in their parents’ vocabularies.3 So instead of just repeating “Goo goo gah gah,” try speaking real words in a more expressive manner. By using a more expressive pitch range when talking to your baby, you’ll give him the abilities to discriminate between different speech sounds, detect boundaries between words, recognize distinct clauses, and match visual cues to corresponding speech sounds.2 This all equates to better language development, stronger emotional bonds, and improved social skills. In other words, your baby will become a rockstar.
At the end of the day, raising a child is a team effort. Sometimes that team is a village. Sometimes that team is a dynamic duo. And sometimes, that team is one person wearing multiple hats. But like in any team, players play off their strengths. Moms, you’re the lucky ones that get to start the race early – cultivating that bond from the moment your little guy can hear you on the other side of the womb. But dads, your baby needs your voice just as much to develop the emotional and social capabilities that will mold his character for the years ahead. We want you to know that you already have the most important tool of parenting – talking. And given the marathon that parenting is, you should use that tool as much as you can, the best you can. So talk to your child. Talk often. Talk a lot. And talk smart.
- Cabrera, Natasha J., Jacqueline D. Shannon and Catherine Tamis-LeMonda. “Fathers’ Influence on Their Children’s Cognitive and Emotional Development: From Toddlers to Pre-K.” Applied Development Science (2007): 208-213. Accessed August 5, 2016.
- Dewar, Gwen. “Better Baby Communication: Has Natural Selection Wired Your Brain for Baby Talk?” Parenting Science, February 2010. Accessed August 5, 2016.
- Hart, Betty, and Todd R. Risley. 2003. “The Early Catastrophe. The 30 Million Word Gap.” American Educator 27(1): 4–9.
- Kolata, Gina. “Studying Learning in the Womb.” Science 225 (1984): 302-303. Accessed July 29, 2016.
- Pancsofar, Nadya and Lynne Vernon-Feagans. “Fathers’ Early Contribution to Children’s Language Development in Families from Low-Income Rural Communities.” National Institutes of Health (2010): 1-15. Accessed August 5, 2016.