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What Dads Can Do With Kids That Makes Them Better Fathers

Photograph by Twenty20

Everyone knows kids should be read to from basically the moment they were conceived. Benefits include vocabulary building, early literacy, time away from screens, parent-child bonding and a lifelong love of reading.

But a recent study found good reason for moms who do the bulk of daily booktime to hand the pages over to Papa.

Preschoolers get all of the known benefits of reading. And Dad becomes a better parent.

The new study out of New York University looked at the effects of an intervention program, "Fathers Supporting Success in Preschoolers," which integrates shared book reading in an effort to boost outcomes among the dads and their kids. Shared book reading is a specific activity that gets grown-ups to use prompts and feedback to help their little ones become active storytellers. In addition to using lots of pictures in the books, the parents are also encouraged to give their kids lots of praise and encouragement as the two go through the story.

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“Rather than a goal of increasing father involvement, which implies a deficit approach, a program that uses shared book reading targets a specific parenting skill set and represents a valued activity for parents and children,” Dr. Anil Chacko, associate professor of counseling psychology at NYU Steinhardt, said about the program and the study, which was published in the Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology.

"Fathers Supporting Success in Preschoolers" was designed to help parents improve their parenting by using routines and encouraging child-centered time. The program also uses attention and other incentives to promote good behavior in the child, while using distraction and ignoring—and only limited time-outs—to discourage attention-seeking behavior.

The NYU study wanted to find out whether this particular approach had any effect on the kids or the fathers. So they looked at 126 low-income, largely Spanish-speaking fathers and their preschool-aged children in Head Start centers around NYC. The pairs were randomly assigned to start the 8-week program or waitlisted for it.

Researchers found that parenting and child behaviors, as well as language development, improved for those who were in the 8-week program, which included weekly 90-minute videos of exaggerated demonstrations of how the reading, prompts and feedback should be.

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Fathers in the program also reported the way the disciplined their child was more in line with what promotes children's psychological growth (e.g., not yelling) and the dads were less critical of their kids, opting for praise and affection instead.

Researchers said that shared book reading may not always be the optimal way of promoting the positive parenting, but that programs aren't driven by what the father is doing wrong, may be the key to increasing enrollment and keeping fathers in the programs for the duration.

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