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The Power of Playtime with Dad

Studies show there are positive outcomes for toddlers who engage in playtime with their dads.
Alexander Elguren

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Playing with dad does more than just create fun memories—it provides essential brain-building engagement. Surprising new research from the UK reveals the overlooked ways a father’s playtime involvement uniquely equips kids for academic and social success.

“When dads devote time to active play and engagement, there are tangible benefits from involving dads,” said psychologist Dr. John Gottman, co-founder of The Gottman Institute. “Playtime with dad represents a golden opportunity to bolster children’s cognitive, emotional, and social skills.”

The Major Study Revealing the Impacts of Dad’s Play

The new insights come from a major study out of the University of Leeds, tracking impacts of father-child play from toddlerhood up to age seven.

The study, titled “Paternal Involvement and its Effects on Children’s Education (PIECE),” analyzed data on nearly 5,000 families in the UK over a seven year period. Published in 2023, the PIECE study linked fathers’ playtime involvement to benchmarks like school readiness tests and social skills assessments as children progressed through primary school.

The big revelation was that engaged playtime with dad starting early in a child’s life provided benefits that lasted. We sat down with Dr. Gottman to get his take on the findings and why fathers’ play matters.

Why Focused Playtime Makes a Difference

The study found that purposeful educational play activities like reading together, doing crafts projects, or playing logic games were most impactful for building kids’ cognitive abilities. This type of engaged play was linked to better grades and test scores more than free play alone.

“Dad’s focused play naturally provides enrichment that stimulates young minds,” Dr. Gottman explained. “This interactive learning comes instinctually through play with fathers.”

But why does it matter whether these activities are done with dad versus mom?

Mothers contributed profoundly through emotional support and other means. This highlights the complementary developmental roles parents play. The diversity of maternal and paternal interactions introduced more skills.

“Fathers tend to engage kids through physical, problem-solving play that builds different capabilities,” said Dr. Gottman. “Kids gain by having both experiences.”

Why Starting Early Matters

A key finding was that regular father-child playtime early in a child’s life established patterns of involvement. Early engagement led to more play interactions as kids aged.

“Consistent, engaged playtime shows kids they’re a priority amid dad’s responsibilities,” advised Dr. Gottman. “And the developmental gains reveal how profoundly children benefit from that time together.”

The researchers recommend even 10-15 minutes per day of purposeful playtime with dad. Consistency is key, as is focused interaction. Treat playtime as precious child-enrichment time.

Putting Playtime into Action

For dads, the message is clear – harnessing play is a powerful way to influence your child’s potential through positive involvement. Make time for it consistently.

For mothers, encourage dad’s playtime and underscore its value for kids. Fathers may take cues from moms modeling play and emphasizing its importance. For parents, unlocking play’s full potential starts with making the most of purposeful playtime together. Start activating the power of play today.

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