American Association of Christian Counselors
American Association of Christian Counselors

Fathers’ Love Critical to Child Development

With Father’s Day just around the corner, everyone is talking about dads. Experts estimate a whopping $12.7 billion will be spent this year on cards, sporting goods, electronics, and a host of other gifts. Historically, fathers have often been “pegged” primarily as providers and breadwinners, while mothers have represented the more loving, nurturing parental role. However, new research reports that the father-child relationship is indeed critical.

“A father’s love contributes as much — and sometimes more — to a child’s development as does a mother’s love,” the Society for Personality and Social Psychology reports.

“In our half-century of international research, we’ve not found any other class of experience that has as strong and consistent effect on personality and personality development as does the experience of rejection, especially by parents in childhood,” says Ronald Rohner of the University of Connecticut, co-author of the new study in Personality and Social Psychology Review. “Children and adults everywhere — regardless of differences in race, culture, and gender — tend to respond in exactly the same way when they perceived themselves to be rejected by their caregivers and other attachment figures.”

After reviewing over 500 studies on parent-child relationships, Rohner found that, while both parental roles are important, the impact of rejection from a father can be vastly more damaging long-term: “, [P]eople can psychologically re-live the emotional pain of rejection over and over for years.”

Oftentimes, even as adults, individuals who experienced rejection from their father have difficulty trusting others and building intimate relationships. While continued research is needed in this area, a team of psychologists from 13 nations suggests that children are impacted most deeply—both psychologically and emotionally—by the parent they perceive as more powerful or influential in the family system.

A dad’s influence is tremendous. When fathers are involved, caring, and emotionally available to their kids, children are more likely to excel academically, less likely to get in trouble, able to empathize with others, more well-adjusted, more stable in their male/female identity, more likely to succeed in relationships, and less driven to peer pressure.

What’s the take-away here?

  1. These findings encourage fathers that they really do matter in their kids’ lives.
  2. Churches and caregivers can empower fathers to help them become more involved emotionally and relationally on a day-to-day basis.
  3. Counselors and clinicians must be aware of the potential impact of the father-child relationship on their clients and implement this in their assessment and treatment planning.
  4. More research is needed to develop empirically supported, evidence-based treatments for working with clients who experienced father rejection as part of their childhood.

Take a moment to share your thoughts below, and if you’d like to read the full report on this research study, click here.

J. Rosenberg and W.B. Wilcox. (2006). “The Importance of Father in the Healthy Development of Children.” Office on Child Abuse and Neglect, U.S. Children’s Bureau.

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