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What’s “Paternal Self-Efficacy” and Its Importance?

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Nov 21, 2023


Paternal self-efficacy.

If you work with dads and haven’t heard that term, or have but it’s only vaguely familiar, get to know it. More and more research has revealed how vital paternal self-efficacy is to dads’ involvement in the lives of their children and to dads’ overall well-being.

Paternal self-efficacy is the agency with which a dad feels competent and capable of parenting his children. When a dad has this agency, it creates the foundation for him to believe he’s a good dad. Even more importantly, it helps build his self-worth as a dad.

A case in point is a study of fathers with children in Head Start or Early Head Start (HS/EHS). Researchers looked at the links between these dads’ depressive symptoms and relationship closeness and conflict with their young children. They also looked at whether the dads’ parental self-efficacy (PSE)i buffered the negative associations between depression and the relationship with their children. They found that dads’ depression was negatively associated with closeness to and conflict with their children. PSE reduced the negative links between depression and dads’ relationship closeness and conflict with their children.

In discussing the study’s implications, the researchers pointed to the importance of HS/EHS providing mental health assessments and support to dads. Moreover, HS/EHS should focus on building PSE in dads because it will help these federal programs to more effectively promote positive parenting practices and help dads create healthy relationships with their children.ii

The importance of building paternal self-efficacy is vital to any human service organization, let alone HS/EHS. One reason is its importance to the involvement of dads when their children are infants. And its importance only continues from there. Paternal self-efficacy is an important predictor of dads’ involvement as their children age.

So, how do you build paternal self-efficacy?

Look no further than the resources of National Fatherhood Initiative® (NFI). They build paternal self-efficacy overall, cover topics that build it in specific ways, and reduce or remove barriers that stand in the way of building it. For example:

And that’s not all.

We have tons of free resources that not only build paternal self-efficacy, such as the 5 Questions Every 24:7 Dad Asks eBook, but that set the stage for dads to believe they can build it and become better dads. Check out our Stories of Impact, videos that show dads change is possible.

Had you heard the term “paternal self-efficacy” before you read this article?

What resources do you use to build it in the dads you serve?

i Parental self-efficacy is a gender-neutral term referring the same agency.

ii In doing so, HS/EHS will provide whole-family approaches more effectively, a strategic goal of the Administration for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the federal agency that funds and oversees HS/EHS. 


Learn more about the Father Engagement Academy by National Fatherhood Initiative

Topics: fatherhood parenting, involved father, Featured, General Fatherhood Program Resources, NFI-Specific Programs & Resources, General Fatherhood Research & Studies, mental health

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