Kids' self-control can improve if they get more playtime with dad

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Researchers say quality time with dad can give children more control over their emotions

While previous studies have highlighted the benefits associated with children playing with both of their parents, a new study put the spotlight on kids’ quality time with their fathers. 

According to researchers from the University of Cambridge, dads tend to be more physical and active when playing with their kids, even from a young age. They say this kind of engagement can be beneficial in giving kids more autonomy over their emotions and behavior. 

“Physical play creates fun, exciting situations in which children have to apply self-regulation,” said researcher Paul Ramchandani. “You might have to control your strength, learn when things have gone too far -- or maybe your father steps on your toe by accident and you feel cross!” 

“It’s a safe environment in which children can practice how to respond,” he added. “If they react the wrong way, they might get told off, but it’s not the end of the world -- and next time they might remember to behave differently.” 

Improving behavioral skills

To understand what effect playtime with dad can have on kids, the researchers analyzed nearly 80 studies that spanned four decades. They were most interested in understanding how quality time between dads and their kids translated to development. 

The researchers learned that fathers are much more physical and active when it comes to playing with their young ones. Even with infants, fathers display a very hands-on approach with their kids during playtime. Ultimately, the researchers found that this was beneficial for kids’ development, as this type of play was associated with better self-control and behavioral outcomes. 

The study found that when fathers and kids engaged in this way, the kids were less likely to lose their tempers with other kids, had better temperaments, and exhibited better behavior overall. However, the researchers explained that mothers can certainly fulfill this role with their children. The style of play -- being able to chase and run -- is what gives kids the opportunity to learn self-control. 

“Children are likely to benefit most if they are given different ways to play and interact,” said Ramchandani. 

Giving parents more time to play

The researchers hope that these findings help shape new policies and culture shifts that give parents more freedom to have quality time with their little ones. 

“At a policy level, this suggests we need structures that give fathers, as well as mothers, time and space to play with their children during those critical early years,” said researcher Dr. Ciara Laverty. 

“Even today, it’s not unusual for fathers who take their child to a parent-toddler group, for example, to find that they are the only father there. A culture shift is beginning to happen, but it needs to happen more.” 

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