Father Involvement and
Children’s Brain Development
Tomás Reyes, PhD
Content Manager
Head Start Knowledge & Information Management Services
Goals for this Session
Share research-based information on father
emgagement and brain development
Explore father parental practices and their link to
brain development
Initiate action planning to support brain-based
father engagement
Opening Activity
• To the sound of music participants will introduce to
each other and discuss pre-formulated questions
• Facilitator will share a question for discussion each
time the music stops
• Each participant will take 1-2 minutes to share
Father Involvement
Is a critical factor in child development as it
provides a buffer against cognitive and academic
performance issues, mental illness, the
development of adverse personality, psychological
maladjustment, delinquency, substance abuse,
depression, and conduct problems.
Rohner, R.P. & Veneziano, R.A. (2001). The importance of father love: History
and contemporary evidence. Review of General Psychology 5.4: 382-405.
Children of Involved Fathers
• Have a greater potential for achieving a more stable
and positive future
• Are better able to gain a sense of independence and
an identity outside the mother/child relationship
• Demonstrate higher self-esteem and grade point
What Fathers Bring to the Table
Different parenting style
Different play style
Build confidence
Different communication
• Different discipline style
• Prepare children for the real
• Provide a window to the
world of men
• Can teach respect for the
other sex
• Connect children with job
Building Blocks for Father Involvement. Building Block 1: Appreciating
how fathers give children a head start. HHS, Office of Head Start, 2004
Activity I: Father parental practices
& brain development
• In small groups brainstorm father parental practices
under posted infants/toddlers needs:
Role modeling
Quality time
Supportive behaviors
Expressions of love
Physical contact
• After time is called up, take a gallery walk and add to
postings under other needs
The Brain
Brain development begins before birth and continues
through early adult years. The process is influenced by
genes passed on from the parents to the child, by the
environment of the mother’s womb, and by the world
the child experiences during infancy and childhood,
which can either weaken or strengthen the initial
National Scientific Council on the developing Child, 2006
About Brain Development
• Brains are built over time, shaped by the interaction
between genetics and experience
• Social, emotional, and cognitive development are
highly interrelated
• Brain architecture and skills are built in a hierarchical
“bottom-up” sequence
• Brain plasticity and the ability to change behavior
decrease over time
Relationships are Key Ingredients
of Brain Development
• Nurturing and responsive relationships build healthy
brain architecture that provides a strong foundation
for learning, behavior, and health
• When protective relationships are not provided,
elevated levels of stress hormones (i.e. cortisol)
disrupt brain architecture by impairing cell growth
and interfering with the formation of healthy neural
Brain Facts
• MAKING CONNECTIONS - A child is born with over
100 billion neurons or brain cells. No more neurons
will develop after birth. These neurons form
connections, called synapses, which make up the
wiring of the brain.
• EARLY EXPERIENCES - At age eight months an infant
may have 1,000 trillion synapses. The final number of
synapses is largely determined by a child's early
Tulsa Community Partnership for Early Childhood
Success/JumpStart Tulsa, 2008
 "USE
IT OR LOSE IT!" - The brain operates on a "use it or lose
it" principle: only those connections and pathways that are
frequently activated are retained.
LANGUAGE SKILLS - When an infant is three months
old, his brain can distinguish several hundred different spoken
sounds. During early childhood, the brain retains the ability to
learn new languages easily and without an accent.
POWER OF THE SPOKEN WORD - The power of early adultchild interactions is remarkable. Researchers found that when
frequently spoken to, infants learned almost 300 more words
by age two than did their peers who were rarely spoken to.
Children need to hear people talk to them about what they are
seeing and experiencing, in order for their brains to fully
develop language skills.
LOVING TOUCH - Warm, responsive care giving meets an
infant's basic, day-to-day needs for nourishment and warmth,
and also responds to their preferences, moods and rhythms.
Recent research suggests that this kind of consistent care
giving plays a vital role in healthy development.
ONE STABLE BOND - Researchers who examine the
life histories of children who have succeeded despite many
challenges, have consistently found that these children have
had at least one stable, supportive relationship with an adult
early in life.
Effects of Substances & Neglect
Toxic substances and neglect can disrupt the
development of the body’s systems. The nature
and severity of that disruption depend upon the
type of substance and/or neglect, the level and
duration of exposure, and on the timing during the
developmental process. Early assaults can lead to
a broad range of lifelong problems in physical and
mental health that impose devastating human and
financial costs.
Adversity & Lifelong Consequences
• Positive stress
• Tolerable stress
• Toxic stress
Activity II: Planning for brain-based
father involvement
In small groups brainstorm father parental
practices to support brain development for school
readiness and life:
Language Development
• Creative Arts
• Social & Emotional
• Approaches to Learning
• Physical Health &
Ingredients of Success
• Buy-in/support from agency leadership and top
• Program philosophy that embraces fatherhood
• Committed and gifted staff to work with fathers
• Identification of fathers’ needs and interests
• Programming and partnerships that address father
• Cultural and language sensibility
• Sustaining of father initiative
ACF Region I, National Survey, 2006
Closing and Evaluations
Additional Resources
• American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP)
– www.aacap.org
• American Psychiatric Association (APA)
– www.HealthyMinds.org
• Center for the Developing Child
– www.developingchild.net
• Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder
– www.chadd.org
• Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center
– http://www.eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov
• Mental Health America (formerly NMHA)
– www.mentalhealthamerica.net
• National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
– www.nami.org
• Taking a closer look: A guide to online resources on Family Involvement
– http://ncpie.org/

Father Involvement and Children`s Brain Development