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Developmental Milestones from Birth to Age 12: Supporting Father-Child Engagement at Different Ages

Father and daughterFathers who interact with their children in positive and developmentally appropriate ways contribute to their children's positive development, particularly their social and cognitive skills. Father-child interactions are important for children's general well-being at all ages.1 Children benefit when fathers know how to foster positive father-child interactions. Moreover, helping young fathers connect with their children in developmentally appropriate ways is a great way to engage fathers in programming.

Program staff working with young fathers (fathers who are under 25 years old) have a unique opportunity to engage these fathers by helping them increase their knowledge of child development and developmentally appropriate ways to interact with their children. There are several reasons to focus on young fathers' engagement with their children. The first is that young fathers are less likely to know about typical child development than older fathers, so educating them about this is a great way to ensure their interactions with their child(ren) are supportive of positive development.2,3 Fathers of all ages generally have a strong desire to be positively involved with their children,4 but many young fathers lack role models in their own families. Therefore, they may be unsure how to engage their children in a positive way. Second, young fathers are still developing themselves. Because of this, they may encounter unique challenges and require additional support; for example, support related to their independence and maturity levels. Third, young fathers may require more patience, acceptance, and understanding and can often feel isolated and ignored as parents. All of this highlights the importance of services targeted explicitly to young fathers. 

This web section provides information about how program staff can work with young fathers directly to cultivate the skills needed for positive engagement with their children. Keep in mind that staff will need to assess young fathers' age-related maturity and their general abilities (e.g., literacy level). Staff may also need to adjust the engagement strategies recommended in this tip sheet accordingly to meet fathers where they are. The web section is organized by children's developmental periods: infancy (0-1 years), toddlerhood (1-4 years) and the early school years (5-12 years). Each page begins by explaining one or two key developmental milestones, followed by tips for engaging fathers in developmentally appropriate, child-centric activities. Tips introduced at earlier ages can continue to be fostered at later ages; for example, program staff can encourage fathers to continue building strong emotional bonds with their children, as is recommended for infants, when their children are older. In addition to the tips provided below, staff should be aware of the positive behaviors fathers already exhibit and be quick to recognize their competencies. When staff praise behaviors fathers already exhibit, they help fathers feel proud, competent, and motivated to do even more. 


This is part of an OAH technical assistance series on working with young fathers that includes the products listed below. To access the resources in this series, visit OAH's “Serving and Engaging Young Males and Fathers” training topic: 


Additional resources


1 Allen, S. & Daly, K. (2007) The effects of father involvement: An updated research summary of the evidence. Fatherhood Involvement Research Alliance. Retreived from http://www.fira.ca/cms/documents/29/Effects_of_Father_Involvement.pdf
2 Karraker, K. H., & Evans, S. L. (1996). Adolescent mothers' knowledge of child development and expectations for their own infants. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 25(5), 651-666.
3 Rowe, M. L. (2008). Child-directed speech: Relation to socioeconomic status, knowledge of child development and child vocabulary skill. Journal of Child Language, 35(1), 185-205.
4 Parker, K. & Livingston, G. (2016, June 16). 6 facts about American fathers. Pew Research Center Fact Tank. Retrieved from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/06/16/fathers-day-facts/
Content created by Office of Adolescent Health
Content last reviewed on October 9, 2017