Fatherhood Matters in Early Childhood

Fatherhood Matters in Early Childhood

The NWT Literacy Council hears from community family literacy facilitators that they want more dads and male role models to come to their programs. We committed to create a resource or tip sheet to help get dads involved in family literacy.

But the task seemed daunting to me, as I am not a man or a dad. How do I know what will support dads? So I recently jumped at the chance to go to a conference on fatherhood in early childhood.

While the whole conference was great, there were three highlights that we’ll keep in mind as we develop our new resource.

Consider the mental health needs of fathers

The first is the importance of recognizing and supporting fathers’ mental health needs. I know that moms who struggle with their mental well-being cannot be there for their children in ways that they want to be. I learned that the risk of mental health issues rises significantly for fathers during the first year of their child’s life. Few fathers feel safe and supported to speak about these issues.

A theme throughout the conference was the need to create a safe, open dialogue about mental health in all phases of life, and to give dads the opportunity to express the ways that they may need help. By supporting all caregivers’ mental health, we can help them to be a bigger part of their child’s development in the early years.

Consider other male role models

The second key learning that I brought back was a reminder that focussing on fathers isn’t enough. A child’s male caregiver or role model can be a biological father, step-father, adoptive dad, uncle, grandpa, friend, coach, or teacher. People who fill this role for kids may or may not have had a romantic relationship with the mother, or may be connected only with the child. Our resource will have to consider that “dads” come in all shapes, sizes, interests, and ages. These lessons were especially clear in the two workshops I went to on programs that support Indigenous fathers in Saskatchewan and Toronto.

Actively engage dads

The last set of tools I learned were different warm-up activities and games that people have found helpful for getting dads engaged. My favourite was from the Saskatchewan Prevention Institute. It is a deck of cards with quotes and statistics about fatherhood. These can be used as an ice-breaker, or a game during activities. While playing card games, participants can talk about what stands out to them or how the quotes and statistics make them feel.

Thank you to Dad Central Canada for organizing this important and helpful conference. We will continue to do focus groups and collect information over the next year, and would love to hear what kinds of family programs dads would like to do with their kids.

—Katie Johnson, Family and Community Literacy Coordinator


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