Moms who are the primary caregivers for young ones can often feel frustrated with dads and how they seem to parent differently. Dads are notorious for arriving on the scene, usually after a long day, and succeeding in getting the kids riled up, overexcited, and super crazy just when it’s time to settle down for the evening. Research has shown that dads do indeed have different parenting behaviors than mothers do, and they’ve been dinged for it in the past when it comes to studies trying to measure parent-child bonds in terms of typical soothing and comforting behaviors. However, newer studies show that the type of silly play that dads are famous for can be valuable in encouraging kids and instilling confidence.
Part of the issue with measuring the father-child bond is simply getting dads to come in for lab studies, according to Dr. Cabrera, prominent researcher in the field of human development. She once spent three years trying to gather 50 fathers to take part in a study! One type of assessment that does seem to favor dads has been dubbed “the Laughing Task” and involves parents being tasked with making their child laugh while in a room without toys. A 2014 study using “the Laughing Task” found that kids playing with their dads showed a wider range of emotions and got more “hyped up” and that these situations were key “zones” when children could learn how to control and regulate themselves.
A key element of this study, however, was the father’s ability to sensitively recognize a child’s emotional needs during play. A father’s lack of sensitivity to these emotions could result in a child’s inability to form attachments and increase their sense of fear and insecurity. As a result of this study and others, researchers are adding more criteria to their parenting evaluations, including whether a parent takes part in pretend or dramatic play and acts in silly or unexpected ways to take on new challenges and frustrating situations. In layman’s terms, it means that we should value dad’s fun involvement with the kids and realize that a dad’s different parenting style enables children to bond with their father on an important level that’s more than just child’s play.