Hey dads: Do you know you can help your baby develop?

Pay attention: your baby is learning.

credit: photoforum.com

3 month-old Jared is having some “tummy time,” and exploring his new world. He is nose-to-nose with his dad, who is jiggling a little toy that makes noise.

Jared watches and says “uh,” and his dad smiles widely, saying “uh” back. Jared kicks his legs happily, and squirms.

At 3 months, Jared is sleeping several hours at a time at night, which is a big relief to both mom and dad. And instead of just crying, he is making cooing sounds, along with some vowels.

You would think he is talking in full sentences though, because when Jared “talks,” his dad responds as if they were talking politics. A simple diaper change has gone from monologue to dialogue:

When his dad says: I’m going to wash your bottom now! Jared responds with jerky movements and “ah” sounds.

Fast forward:

2 year-old Jared has grown like a weed, runs around like crazy and chatters away.

Jared and his dad still love playing on the floor together. When Jared picks up a plastic Duplo man, his dad chooses another Duplo person and “walks” him into the house they have built. Dad says, “I’m going inside now!” in a funny voice.

Jared rubs his eyes, reaches for his favorite book, and crawls into his dad’s lap. His dad snuggles him close, asking him if he is tired and ready for his nap.

Dad is really good at making voices when he reads, and Jared always giggles when they get to this part: “And the wild things roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws.” (Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak)

His dad always points to the word terrible when he reads it.

Dad has different sounds for each monster in the book, and when Jared points to one of them, his dad always roars the “right” way.

3 month-old Jemma also has “tummy time” with her dad. He knows this is important because their pediatrician said so.

Jemma gets fussy though, practically by the time her dad gets back to his laptop. So he picks her up and puts her back in her little seat, where she seems more content. Playing with her giraffe keeps her busy so he can concentrate on what he is doing.

credit: chaseeverysecond.com

Jemma’s dad loves her to bits, but doesn’t talk to her or try to play. She is just way too young.

He can’t wait until they can actually do things together.

Fast forward:

2 year-old Jemma, just like Jared, runs and talks and plays with all kinds of toys now.

She has always been an easy child, and now is no exception. She contentedly plays with her Duplos while her dad works on his computer.

Struggling to fit a Duplo person into a car, Jemma brings the pieces to her dad, banging them together.

Jemma’s dad looks down briefly, takes the pieces, and says “Thanks, Jem.” Jemma says, “No, man drive!” but her dad just glances at her and hands the toys back.

Nap-time means a book, and Jemma finds her favorite. Her dad chooses a shorter one though, because he needs to get back to what he was doing. He reads it quickly, before covering her up with her blanket and kissing her one the head.

By the time they are 2 years old, researchers show that children with fathers like Jared’s actually score higher on cognitive tests than those whose fathers are more like Jemma’s.

This is true even when other factors are considered. Specifically, the father’s age and education level, and the sensitivity of the mother.

It is generally accepted that parenting behaviors influence child outcomes. However, most studies have focused on mother-child relationships.

This study shows that even in very young infants, father-child interactions impact the cognitive outcome of their children 21 months later.

The most important factor at 3 months was the involvement of the father. More remote — or seemingly depressive — behaviors were related to lower cognitive scores in their children at 24 months.

At 24 months, important factors essentially boiled down to engagement without control. Fathers who were sensitive to their children’s emotions, and engaged in play without trying to control them, were related to better scores in their children.

Reading interactions also made a difference. Fathers who focused on their child’s interests and attention, and pointed out school-related concepts (like colors, letters, words, and numbers) had children with higher scores.

This study shows that even our youngest are watching, listening and learning from everything we say and do.

And that dads can make a big difference by doing the littlest things.

If you found this interesting or learned anything new, please let me know by giving it 💚💚💚.

Sethna V, Perry E, Domoney J, Iles J, Psychogiou L, Rowbotham NEL, Stein A, Murray L, and Ramchandani PG. 2017. “Father-Child Interactions at 3 Months and 24 Months: Contributions to Children’s Cognitive Development at 24 Months.” Infant Mental Health Journal 2017 Apr 27. doi:10.1002/imhj.21642.