Why should dads read to their young children? Because research has shown that it’s incredibly beneficial! Today’s podcast episode focuses on why dads can make such great reading partners for their kids.
Mums see it as an educational imperative
In a study comparing how children’s reading is affected when read to by mums versus dads, Dr Elisabeth Duursma found a strong gender pattern.
Mums put more pressure on themselves as parents, they see it more as a job, and they see themselves in competition with other mums. So when mums are reading with their kids they’re approaching it as a teaching exercise, which some call competitive parenting.
Dads are chilled and chatty
Dads on the other hand are lying on the floor with their kids, and if the kid doesn’t want to read they just let it go.
According to research fathers, in general, use a broader vocabulary than mothers do during story time with their kids. They use the story as a springboard for imaginative discussions, which in turn encourages their child’s language development.
They also tend to use the story as a springboard to chat about everyday experiences rather than staying focused mostly on the story as mums tend to do. For eg, if there are butterflies in the picture, mum might ask how many there are or what colour they are, but a dad might ask a child if they remember chasing a butterfly in the park the week before and what happened. This kind of abstract question gives a child’s brain a greater challenge. And apparently the benefits for a) little girls and b) low income families, are particularly notable.
Good for blood pressure!
And the benefit isn’t just for the kids, reading at the end of the day is a great stress reducer. Apparently within 6 minutes muscles relax and the heart rate drops – sounds like a good alternative to blood pressure medication to me!
Dads are more emotionally present?
No matter the gender, if fathers are reading to their kids before they hit 2 years of age there will be a huge impact. The fact that kids often appear to be more engaged when their dad reads may also be the novelty of having his undivided attention.
Dr Duursma likes this more chilled out dad approach and suggests that kids need more acceptance and more time with their parents emotionally present as well as being physically present. When observing parents out of the home she finds that mums are more often sitting to the side using their phones whereas dads are more likely to be actively playing with their kids.
Please note that I’m speaking in very broad generalisations here. Maybe some of the reason why a mum might be scanning Facebook at the park is because she’s been going non-stop with her kids all morning and needs a quick break, whereas the dad’s only just turned up! Who knows! There are so many variables in every family.
Mums in competition with other mums
I find this quote from Professor Jaqueline Barnes enlightening. She says, “children have become, in a strangely Victorian way, perceived as the property of parents and their achievements are seen as part of the identity of parents.” The resulting tutoring and pressure put on kids to succeed is not healthy, and this can start from a very young age.
Perhaps Tiger Mothering is more widespread that I’d realised!
Professor Barnes argues for a balance. We need to be interested and involved in the lives of our children, but not intrusive.
Do mums realise they’re blocking dad’s access?
Researchers have found that mums are still considered the primary carer and dads are often still off to the side. That if given the chance to hang out with their kids they’ll grab it, but sometimes mums control the access. This isn’t necessarily referring to split families, but households in general and how time is used and divvied up.
For eg, my youngest is 15 now so obviously I no longer read to my own children but it was my favourite mum activity when they were little. I must admit that even now it would go against the grain for me to roll over and give up that wonderful time to my husband, but looking back it would have been really great for him to have had more reading time with them, and I could have always sneaked in my own reading sessions at other times of the day!
Let’s get dads (and grandads and uncles) reading!
Those emotional bonds that are formed by snuggling together to read are very important, so let’s encourage the dads we know to get in on that super time of the day – storytime!
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That’s it for today’s episode. If you enjoyed it please go to iTunes to leave a rating and review, it helps others find the podcast.
The Education Podcast Network
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Thanks for joining me to learn more about early childhood and I wish you happy teaching and learning.