In a discussion about the importance of a father’s role in child development, someone once told me that “children view anything their dad does with them to be either fun or important.” As a male teacher at Beginnings School, I see the importance of fathers in their children’s lives, as well as the capacity of males – boys and men – to be emotionally competent, supportive, and empathic.
In thinking about my own experience with my dad, fun and important are strong associations. Fun with my father might have included Saturday morning hikes on local trails, trips to our favorite bagel shop for breakfast, and collecting bugs in the backyard. Important might have consisted of learning to swing a baseball bat, reading books, and being ready to do anything for the ones that you love. But the real fun and important was the father behind those experiences, the father who was caring, responsive, and loving and who fostered the growth of empathy, emotion knowledge and regulation, and other building blocks of emotional intelligence in me.
As someone who is deeply invested in the child development field, I can speak to the wealth of knowledge available surrounding the importance of mothers; information on the role of fathers, however, proves to be more difficult to find. In my daily life as a teacher, I see fathers who are role models, support systems, caregivers, and play partners to their children; their impact on their child’s life is undeniable. Anecdotes that have been shared with me, of children waiting for their fathers to get home from work to hear about the train ride, or jumping for joy when they are picked up by dad early on a Friday afternoon, speak to the importance of every one of the fathers in my students’ lives.
I also see how emotionally competent and empathic these sons can be, despite the stereotypes often associated with boys. At Beginnings School, we place great importance on these skills. A study by Housman Institute of the begin to ECSEL early learning program found that after Beginnings children received the evidence-based begin to ECSEL intervention, boys performed as well as girls in empathy, emotional competence, and self-regulation -- all areas in which boys typically significantly underperform girls. Boys and girls in our program also significantly outperformed boys and girls of the same demographic nationally in these same competencies which are the building blocks of emotional intelligence and are so critical to lifelong learning, success, and mental health.
At Beginnings, I see emotional intelligence on display each and every day, not only in the girls but in the boys as well, and I remain grateful to my father and to all those fathers who, through fun and important experiences, nurture these same competencies in their sons.