Father holding young child

A Father’s Impact on Early Childhood Development

Clinton Boyd Jr., Ph.D., Postdoctoral Associate, Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Equity at Duke University shares his thoughts on the importance of Black fathers and a father’s impact on their child’s early development.

Clinton Boyd, Jr., Ph.D. June 17, 2021
  • Equity
  • Family Engagement
  • Blog
  • Video

For me, advocating for Black fathers is a matter of personal, professional, and societal importance. My father’s indelible impact on my life — including my own role as an active father to my children — led me to pursue a career ensuring Black fathers are recognized as assets to their children, families, and communities. Research has highlighted the important role and contributions that Black fathers have on their families, including influences on children’s school adjustment, social competence, psychological well-being and positive racial socialization.

A father’s involvement in his child’s life from very early on has a tremendous impact on their development. Children with involved, caring fathers have stronger educational and developmental outcomes with better linguistic and cognitive capabilities. They also start school with higher academic readiness. Fathers that spend time playing with their infants and preschoolers in stimulating, engaging activities help their children learn how to regulate their feelings and behavior. I can personally attest to spending a lot of time playing with my youngest son, a toddler, as he learns to explore the world around him.

Addressing systemic racism can help fathers fill this important role and empowering them with resources. Below are ways we all can create opportunities for marginalized fathers and better position them as the assets they are in our society.

  • Change the narrative. We must change society’s misguided view of Black fathers as negligent parents and recast them as integral parts of our family and community, just as my father was for me and how I strive to be for my children. This requires presenting positive and culturally affirming narratives of Black fathers in the media — including social media— and through research studies, organizational cultures and legislation.
  • Expand home visiting and parent education programs to ensure they are father friendly, father-centered and culturally inclusive. All fathers want what is best for their children, and home visiting programs can empower fathers in their role by engaging them in program activities and supporting their involvement in their children’s lives.
  • Drive policy change that transforms the child support system into a family-building institution. Eliminating government-owed child support debt for fathers unable to pay will go a long way in enabling Black fathers to advance economically and to better provide for their children.

Supporting Black fathers in their role as a child’s first and most important teacher is an investment in our children and our communities. This Father’s Day, let’s intentionally change the narrative, advocate for local, state and federal policies that benefit Black fathers and promote positive and culturally relevant parent and home visiting programs that benefit early childhood development.

Learn more about my work and continue to follow this blog for the latest updates from Start Early.

About the Author

Clinton Boyd, Jr., PhD Headshot

Clinton Boyd, Jr., Ph.D.

Researcher, Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago

Dr. Boyd studies how the life course events of African American men affect their experiences as fathers. His areas of interest include race and ethnicity, social inequality, urban sociology, family policy, and parenting and African American families.

More About Clinton

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