Fathers Care for Kids, Too

Pediatric waiting rooms may start to look a little different. They are usually filled with kids accompanied by their mothers. But recognizing the important role of fathers and other male caregivers, the American Academy of Pediatrics has issued a new policy statement and guidelines intended to encourage greater maleinvolvement in children's lives and healthcare.

Comment: It is about time!

Barbara K. Hecht, Ph.D.
Frederick Hecht, M.D.
Medical Editors, MedicineNet.com

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Pediatricians Can Help Fathers Be More Involved in Children's Lives

CHICAGO- Fathers' involvement and interactions with their children can have a positive influence on their children's development. In a new clinical report, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests ways pediatricians can support and increase fathers' active roles in their children's lives.

Research shows more fathers are staying home with their children as more mothers choose to go to work. Even among men who do work, the average amount of time they spend with their children has increased in the past decade to more than two hours per weekday and more than six hours per weekend. And there are more single dads raising children too. Census figures indicate father-only households increased to 4.3 million, or 4.2 percent of U.S. households in the year 2000.

A father may be a biological, foster or adoptive father; he may be a stepfather, grandfather, teen father, father figure or coparent father in a gay relationship. But no matter how fathers are defined, the AAP says pediatricians need to broaden their understanding of fathers' roles and expectations--and modify their clinical style and office practices to accommodate and support fathers' expanding roles.

The AAP suggests several ways to do this:

  • Expand office hours to accommodate working schedules of all parents.
  • Encourage fathers to come in for at least one visit in an infant's first 2 months of life.
  • Speak directly to the father as well as the other parenting partner, and solicit his opinions.
  • Politely explore the father's relationship to the other parent, his cultural traditions regarding parenting and his personal beliefs about his role in caring for the child.
  • Be sensitive to and informed about diverse cultural and ethnic values and customs, especially "traditional" father roles.
  • Welcome fathers to appointments and express appreciation for their attendance.
  • Remind the family that fathers are not just workers or breadwinners, and mothers are not just nurturers or primary child care providers.
  • Reinforce the father's support of the mother's mental and physical health. He can help the mother have some time alone, assist her in caring for other family members or be aware of her psychological well-being by looking out for signs of postpartum depression.

The long-term positive effects of fathers' direct involvement in the care of their children become evident through childhood and adolescence. Pediatricians can help fathers learn to play a variety of roles in the family beyond the stereotypical role of financial supporter.

Source: A news digest dated May 3, 2004based on a policy statement published in the May issue of Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).


Last Editorial Review: 5/5/2004