The Myth Busting Power of Dad Science – By Dr Anna Machin
At the Dad Matters 5th Birthday Conference in June 2022, Dr. Anna Machin provided us with an amazing video resource which highlights the science behind our ambition to support more men, and dads to become educated, responsive, nurturing parents, especially in those very early years.
Some of the take away nuggets of information from the video are mentioned below, but please take some time to watch it in full to really understand the context and science that underpins our commitment to supporting dads.
Firstly, when we talk about being a dad, it isn’t always about biology; it is more about those men who are stepping in to that fathering role. This can include step fathers, adoptive/intended parents.
Three are a number of myths we want to bust about being a dad.
- Myth 1 – “Dads are not instinctive parents – mums are!”
- Hormone changes in dads – yes, this is a thing!
- Changes in Dad’s brain to improve parenting – yes, this is another thing
- Biobehavioural synchrony – when our physical and emotional and neural behaviour is in sync with our babies. This is much more evident in responsive dads
- Myth 2 – “Mums attach to their babies, dads don’t!”
- Attachment between mum and baby and dad and baby look very different
- Mum has a more nurturing structure whereas dadsbring both a nuture element and a challenging element
- Dads are scaffolding their child’s entry into the world
- When we are testing for attachment relationships, the tests should be different for men and women
- There are similarities between mums and dads
- BUT there are also differences
- Is there a delay in bonding between dads and babies and why do we compare this process to mums – it is very different.
- Dads build bonds by interactions and touch
- After 6 months the most profound ‘dad’ behaviour can start – rough and tumble
- Resilience and risk – children do choose fathers as preferred play partners over mothers – why is this?
- Myth 3 – “Dads play no independent role in child development!”
- How do dads scaffold their child’s entry into the world beyond their family?
- Transitions include:
- Language and executive function are crucial developments for dads involvement
- Working Memory
- Inhibitory control
- What is it about fathers that stimulates development in these during preschool years?
- Father’s are a key component in supporting teen mental health.
- Dads involvement nurtures their child’s mental health and resilience from birth
- Reduce depression
- Reduce loneliness
- Improve self esteem
- It does NOT rely on a biological relationship
- Children attribute importance to fathers if their father spends time with them – this is crucial for self esteem. And it doesn’t have to be extravagant event, just simple tasks together
- Dads encourage Positive Resilience which results in good mental health
Some other points from the video to take note of:
Fathers are meant, needed and unique.
Fathers are not a secondary parent, they are a co-parent, and they bring something very special and very unique to the parenting table
We also should mention single parent and LGBTQI+ families, where brain plasticity and cognitive adaption play a crucial role in supporting these parents to provide flexible developmental tools.
So – in summary…
Dads are critical to children’s survival and development
Dads are biologically primed to be good parents
Dads are not male mothers, and bring a more challenging element to attachment relationships
Dads are the parent of mental and physical resilience and pro social behaviours
Dads are enabled to be more diverse as their relationship is not tied to biology of baby. Therefore their role can respond quickly to changes in environment and perceive risk which changes the relational input from the dad to the child
Dads can adapt quickly and bring about changes in environment flexibly and responding appropriately
Fathers are equal parents to mothers – use this knowledge to power that change!
Click the button below to watch the full video