The Father Factor

What Dads Know and Want to Know about Child Development

Most Recent Fatherhood Posts

Aug 21, 2018


Have you wondered what dads know and want to know about child development?

Given that men aren’t raised to raise children, it’s not a surprise that many men arrive at fatherhood with little or no knowledge about child development. And while they might articulate what they’d like to know, it might be a while before they’re comfortable asking questions, especially if they think doing so will make them look ill-informed at best and stupid at worst. Moreover, even if you have had discussions about child development with some dads, you might only have a partial picture of what they know and want to know.

Enter Child Trends, the outstanding research firm based in Bethesda, MD. Researchers there recently completed a comprehensive literature review of what parents, including dads, know and want to know about child development. They used that review to create the protocol they used in focus groups they conducted with groups of parents diverse in race, ethnicity, and income. What they learned from the literature review and focus groups provides a more comprehensive picture of what dads need and want regarding child development.

While the findings are too numerous to mention in this post (click here for a summary and to download and read the seven-page brief), you might find the following ones particularly useful in your work with dads.

  • Dads and moms are more similar than different in the knowledge they need and want. The primary difference between genders is with societal expectations about their level of involvement. Dads struggle with the expectation that they won’t be involved while moms struggle with the expectation that they’ll be “super mom.” Your ability to instill in dads an expectation that they will be involved throughout their child’s life is vital to help them avoid this struggle.
  • Most parents lack the knowledge they need and want. Unfortunately, they struggle to find information that’s clear and trustworthy.
  • Parents trust pediatricians to provide quality child development information. They also prefer to receive such information from family and friends who are experienced parents.
  • Parents have lots of questions. They especially want to know about developmental milestones—not just physical milestones, but social-emotional milestones, such as discipline and screen use (i.e. use of any device with a screen). Their knowledge base on social-emotional milestones isn’t as solid as it is on physical milestones. It’s more difficult to find information on social-emotional milestones.

The researchers offer a host of recommendations for building the knowledge of parents in child development in a way that ensures they have what they need and want. You might find the following three recommendations particularly helpful in your work with dads.

  • Do everything you can to provide child development information. Provide it in clear, concise language. Emphasize how important dads are to healthy child development, physical and social-emotional.
  • Use the internet. Because parents often turn to the internet for information on child development, identify sources you can trust to provide accurate information and build them into service delivery.
  • Point out that children vary in their physical and social-emotional development. Milestones are guidelines. Children develop at different rates. If a dad has a concern about his child’s development, he should seek professional guidance (e.g. advice of his child’s pediatrician).

The good news is that for the past 15 years National Fatherhood Initiative® (NFI) has partnered with medical professionals who are experts in child development (physical and social-emotional) to create comprehensive developmental milestone charts from birth through age 18. (We update these charts every couple of years to ensure they contain the most up to date information.) These charts not only include physical and social-emotional milestones, they also include age-appropriate action steps that dads can take to increase the likelihood that their children will develop well.

We’ve integrated these charts into our programs and print materials that include:

  • Our evidence-based 24/7 Dad® and InsideOut Dad® programs to increase dads’ knowledge of child development. One of the ways participants in these programs use the charts is to create age-appropriate ways to be more involved in their children’s lives.
  • An internet-based version of the charts into our new online program, Fathering in 15. This interactive tool allows dads to track their child’s progress as their child ages. They can assess their child’s progress against milestones, print out the assessment, and, if they have a concern(s) about their child’s development, enter questions to print and take to their child’s next doctor visit.
  • Our Help Me Grow Guides for the first year, toddler and preschool years, and elementary school years. (Available in English and Spanish.) You can acquire these guides separately or as a bundle.

I hope you will use this helpful brief and NFI programs and resources to provide dads with the child development knowledge they want and need!

How much child development information do you provide to dads?

Are you aware of how comprehensive NFI’s developmental milestone charts are, that they cover all of childhood, and that NFI has integrated them into so many resources?


Fundraising for Fatherhood Programs Webinar

Topics: Featured, NFI-Specific Programs & Resources, General Fatherhood Research & Studies

Subscribe to Championing Fatherhood


Get the Father Engagement Resources You Need

Visit our Store