Fathers play a significant role in the social, emotional, and
behavioral development of children. However, working with fathers to
improve their parenting - and, in turn, outcomes for their children -
has been understudied, as most parenting research focuses on mothers.
In addition, earlier studies of parenting interventions for fathers have
issues with high rates of fathers dropping out of the studies.
‘A parenting program where fathers engage with their children through reading was found to boost the fathers' parenting skills while also improving the preschoolers' school readiness and behavior.’
A parenting program where fathers engage with their children through
reading was found to boost the fathers' parenting skills while also
improving the preschoolers' school readiness and behavior, finds a study
led by NYU's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human
"Unlike earlier research, our study finds that it is possible to
engage fathers from low-income communities in parenting interventions,
which benefits both the fathers and their children," said Anil Chacko,
associate professor of counseling psychology at NYU Steinhardt and the
lead author of the study, published in the Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology
This study evaluated the effects of Fathers Supporting Success in
Preschoolers, an intervention that focuses on integrating parent
training with shared book reading to improve outcomes among fathers and
their preschool children.
Shared book reading is an interactive and dynamic activity in which
an adult uses prompts and feedback to allow a child to become an active
storyteller. It relies heavily on using pictures, and supports parents
giving children praise and encouragement. Shared book reading fosters
father-child interactions, but also aligns with a priority of early
education programs to develop school readiness.
"Rather than a goal of increasing father involvement, which implies a
deficit approach, a program that uses shared book reading targets a
specific parenting skill set and represents a valued activity for
parents and children," Chacko said.
In the study, 126 low-income fathers and their preschool-aged
children were recruited across three Head Start centers in New York
City. The families, a majority of whom spoke Spanish, were randomly
assigned to either participate in the program or were put on a waitlist
(which acted as the control condition).
The short-term intervention included eight weekly sessions lasting
90 minutes each. In these sessions, small groups of fathers watched
videos showing fathers reading with children but with exaggerated
errors. The fathers then identified and, in small and large groups,
discussed better approaches to these interactions. Fathers were then
encouraged to practice the strategies they identified at home with their
child during shared book reading.
The program sought to improve parenting behaviors such as
establishing routines, encouraging child-centered time, using attention
and incentives to promote good behavior, using distraction and ignoring
to reduce attention-seeking behavior, and resorting to time-outs
The study evaluated the effects of the program on parenting skills,
child behavior and language, and outcomes for fathers, including stress
and depression. These factors were measured before and immediately after
participation in the program, and included both observations by the
researchers, standardized assessments of language, and information
reported by the fathers. Attendance data was also collected as a measure
The researchers found that parenting behaviors, child behaviors, and
language development of the children who participated in the program
improved significantly relative to those on the wait-list.
More specifically, fathers reported improved discipline approaches
and promotion of their children's psychological growth. This held true
in the researchers' observations, who after the intervention, saw that
fathers made fewer critical statements to their children and used more
positive parenting behaviors like praise and affection. The researchers
also measured a moderate effect on language outcomes among the children.
Overall, the data suggest more than a 30% improvement in
parenting and school readiness outcomes.
Importantly, the average attendance rate for the weekly sessions was
79 percent, which was substantially higher than past parenting programs
"Unlike other parenting programs, fathers in this program were not
recruited to work on parenting or reduce child behavior problems, but to
learn - with other fathers - skills to support their children's
school readiness, which may remove stigma and support openness among
fathers in supporting their children," Chacko said. "The findings are
particularly noteworthy given the study's population of low-income,
Spanish-speaking, immigrant fathers."
The researchers noted that shared book reading may not be the best
approach for all fathers and children, so interventions should be
tailored to the preferences of communities and parents in order to
increase the likelihood of success.
"Ultimately, we believe that developing a program that is both
focused on the parent and child, and one that is not deficit-driven or
focused on improving problematic parenting but is focusing on skill
development, would be appealing and engaging for fathers," Chacko said.