A father's influence upon a child's academic success later in life is felt the most when he's involved from the very beginning, according to a new study.
Brent McBride, a professor of human development at University of Illinois says while a mother's involvement in school was found to be positively related to a child's academic achievement, a father's involvement was found to be negatively related to later student achievement.
Fathers are typically called only "when the child is going to flunk, is going to get expelled, is getting held back or is exhibiting a behaviour problem, which would account for the negative relationship."
But if a father hasn't engaged with a child before they go off to school, "there's even less likelihood he's going to be engaged even when there is a problem in school.
"That's why it's not hard to understand why men don't become involved in the school process that much, because they're not involved early on in the process," he added.
McBride said if fathers establish early on that they're going to actively engage in the parenting process they're much more likely to continue that engagement as they grow older.
Fathers and father figures, he says, can have at least as much of a unique impact on a child as mothers do, and therefore should be seen as co-equal partners in parenting
"We need to help fathers realize that what they do is really important. If we wait and only get fathers involved when kids are having problems in school, that's too late," McBride added.
Typically, when children are sick, there's a "high probability that daycare or school will call the mother and not the father first," he said. Not necessarily because the mother is better informed about the child's health, McBride said, but because "that's how they're socialized to think, that Mom is the only one who can respond in that situation."
He said these analyses suggest that we need to think more about men, fatherhood and what role they play as parents.
"We need to look at the bigger picture, because these analyses all point to the same conclusion: that men and women each contribute uniquely to child outcomes," he said. "
"Any chance we get to help men discover what fatherhood really means to them and give them a model toward that engagement."
The study appears in Journal of Educational Psychology.