Sporting events and working bees are the traditional domain of dads when it comes to their children’s education. Mums tend to be the ones attending parent nights, guiding subject selection, helping with homework and talking about social issues at school. It’s not the case in every home, but if you sit on the other side of the teacher’s desk for twenty years, that is certainly the perception.
So, why aren’t some dads making it from the school sports field into the business of the classroom? We are seriously missing all they have to contribute. If they figuratively and literally pulled up a chair at the homework desk the impact would be profound…especially when it comes to their daughters.
It has long been known that involved fathers and father figures enhance verbal and intellectual development in their children. These children also tend to enjoy school more and achieve better education outcomes. For girls the impact goes further.
Research presented by Professor of Educational and Adolescent Psychology, Linda Nielsen, shows that girls whose fathers are actively involved in their education tend to perform better academically and are more likely to go into challenging, higher-paying careers.
In short… a dad can increase the possibility of a life where his daughter is stimulated and rewarded appropriately for her efforts. Shouldn’t men be jumping all over that opportunity?
What might be stopping our dads from pulling up that chair and providing the connection and support which would make such a big difference?
The barriers to fathers’ involvement
Steven Bremner has three children. He and his wife chose Lourdes Hill College for his Year 7 daughter. He’s also something of an education expert, as deputy principal of a large high school.
Steven recognises the potential for fathers to be more involved in their daughters’ learning and education. However, he also identifies some of the barriers that consciously or subconsciously stop that from happening.
1. Some fathers feel as though they can’t relate to their daughters, especially when they begin to go through puberty. This is made worse when adolescents inevitably become more focused on their peers.
2. Schools are becoming increasingly female environments, to the point where a male primary school teacher is a rarity and research tells us they may be extinct within 50 years. Girls’ schools tend to have an even higher percentage of female staff. This leads to the perception that education is “women’s business”.
3. Some men feel limited by their own education.
4. It’s a sad reality that as girls develop, some dads are very conscious of how others view their relationship with their daughter.
5. Agreements have been made in the division of roles in the family and education falls under their partner’s responsibilities.
Three Ways Dads Could Make a Big Difference
If dads do decide to invest more heavily in their daughter’s education, how can they do that? Starting with these three areas would make a significant difference.
1. Talk the talk
Steven encourages dads to consciously speak positively about school, education and your child’s capability. Your daughter values what you value, and they listen even when they don’t seem to be. If you value academic processes and tasks, they are more likely to strive for success in these areas.
Research agrees with Steven. “When fathers perceive their children to be capable of a task, this is linked not only with the children’s positive perceptions of their own abilities, but also with the degree to which they value the task (Bhanot & Jovanovic, 2009).” Read that again. It’s important.
2. Help your daughter look into the future
Steven sees a big role for fathers in making the world real and focusing on the big picture. “Dads can make the world real for their kids. The average 12-year old can’t see past the end of the week and that’s fine, but they need to be reminded of the long term. We can refocus them, especially when they are experiencing problems. We can show them that these problems will end, and new things will begin.”
Show your daughter the possibilities for her future. In doing so, be aware of your gender biases. They are an inevitable part of your upbringing, but you can recognise them and move beyond them.
Ignore what you think your daughter’s academic limits are. If she has a passion, encourage it. These days, young people are no longer limited by mere exam scores. Only 26% of university students in Australia used an ATAR to get there. Many people develop their academic abilities beyond school, so don’t squash a dream, explore it thoroughly and enjoy all the possibilities.
3. Move beyond your comfort zone
Education is all about moving beyond your comfort zone. You don’t have to live there but you do have to visit often. This doesn’t just apply to our children. Many dads don’t want to engage with their daughter’s education because, “they do it differently to when I was at school.” Yes, they do. So, dive in and see how they do it now. At the very least you will have shown your daughter that learning is life-long and even adults have to challenge themselves.
Read through drafts, talk through problems, provide and stimulate options. Get your daughter to explain her work to you. Young girls love teaching their dad new things. I mean REALLY love it. They also solidify their own knowledge when they take you through their tasks and what they have to do.
Older girls, as we all know, want and need less help and more guidance. They want a coach. Learn about the new graduation systems and requirements. Coach them in planning, organising, breaking down tasks, and how to overcome learning obstacles. Be aware of what challenges are approaching and talk about how they are going to handle them. If your daughter fails, show her how to fail constructively. Then back up all that effort with celebration because ongoing, concerted effort is always worthy of celebration.
When you are sitting at the homework desk with your daughter, something much more important happens than homework. She learns that you are a helper and a supporter. She sees you break down problems, and you communicate with one another. Your daughter learns you are there when things seem hard. She will use that inner knowing all her life. She will come to you when things are difficult, and that’s worth everything.
This article was first published by Lourdes Hill College, Brisbane