The Importance of Fathers in the Child's Development

The Importance of Fathers in the Child's Development

Written by Craig Rogers, Posted on , in Section Relationships That Matter

Why Babies Need Dads Too!

Here is a refreshing article about the role of Dad's in the child's development. Even though this should be common sense, it isn't. The role of the father has been obliterated in the last several decades, and for many reasons. Instead of going into the reasons or causes of the absent father, this article focuses on the importance of his role.

Original article posted on on June 12th, 2016 by Darcia Narvaez Ph.D.

The brain is shaped by early experience, specifically, the mothering (nurturing responsive care) we receive from mothers and fathers.

Fathers and mothers and other adults provide social experience for children throughout life. These experiences in early life establish how well the brain develops, not only for health and intelligence but sociality.* Autistic children (autism refers to social awkwardness, which seems to have a variety of causes) have difficulty imitating the vitality dynamics in others (the “how” of interpersonal signaling), though they can imitate means and goals accurately (the “what”).

What is vitality dynamics? Here is what the late Daniel Stern, a renown psychotherapist specializing in early development, said in his 2010 book, Forms of Vitality:

“We naturally experience people in terms of their vitality. We intuitively evaluate their emotions, states of mind, what they are thinking and what they really mean, their authenticity, what they are likely to do next, as well as their health and illness on the basis of the vitality expressed in their almost constant movements” (p. 3)

Five dynamic events are linked together in our experience of vitality: “movement, time, force, space, and intention/directionality….Vitality is a gestalt, a whole that emerges from these components. “It is not analyzed in any conscious way piece by piece, any more than a familiar face is, even though each separate element could be taken aside and studied in isolation.” (Stern, 2010, p. 5)

What are the dynamic processes that shape the brain in early life?

Colwyn Trevarthen (1999) coined the term, communicative musicality, to describe the interpersonal dynamics of synchronizing motives, intentional states, and behaviors with another—the forming of a duet of “being with” the other person by sharing the dynamic flow.

"The early social life of the baby shapes capacities for vitality dynamic movement."

From 2.5 to about 6 months of age, the baby’s behavior is highly responsive to his parent’s behavior through facial expressions and vocalizations. Interactions become rich and mutual. “Face-to-face play becomes the main “game.” The eyes, face vocalizations, gestures, and body tonus, take center stage.” (Stern, 2010, p. 106)

Subsequently, as the baby is able to control movements more, they more easily mirror their social partner. Dads are particularly good at playing with their children and through such play, the child is learning scripts for social relationships.

“Dynamic forms of vitality are part of episodic memories and give life to the narratives we create about our lives. Accordingly, dynamic forms of vitality provide another path for psychotherapy to access non-conscious past experience” which includes “implicit relational knowing (how we implicitly know how ‘to be with’ a specific other” (Stern, 2010, p. 11)

"Dads, like moms, help children learn ways to “be with” others. Each relationship is a way to learn an alternative pattern: “Dad and I relate this way; Mom and I relate that way”. Learning reliable alternative patterns prepares the child for a varied social life."

Babies are optimally aroused to play and be happy in a particular zone of arousal. Too little or too much parental stimulation shifts the baby out of the optimal zone. It takes practice for adults to learn the optimal zone if they have not had much prior experience “conversing” with babies.

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