There is a term in pediatrics known as failure to thrive, which generally refers to a child’s failed ability for proper physical growth and sometimes even poor intellectual, social, or emotional development. Causes of FTT can often be attributed (but not limited to) physical or mental irregularities the child is born with—or through improper caregiving, especially when it comes to the child’s nutritional intake.
FTT is a real condition, but what I want to briefly discuss here is another reason so many children fail to thrive on multiple levels─ the absence of a strong father figure in their lives. Hundreds of studies have shown that when fathers are involved in the lives of their children (great or small) the children thrive in multiple areas such as emotionally, mentally, and cognitively. When dads aren’t involved, our sons and daughters are at much greater risks for behaviors such as dropping out of school, teen pregnancy, and dangerous/illegal behavior.
Dads, whether you are their full-time caregiver or every other weekend, your involvement in your child’s life matters! Here are a few quick examples of how we can take our kids from areas where they might not be making the grade to heights they may never reach on their own:
Show Some Love
It may sound cliché, but a simple hug goodbye or an “I love you” over the phone builds a solid foundation for kids to base their life on. We all desire the love, affection, and affirmation of others─ but how much more for a young one to hear that from their dad! Also, random acts of love and appreciation (such as taking them out for ice cream as a surprise or because of a good report card), a guy’s night out with your son, or a date night with your daughter will leave lasting memories they can hold on to the rest of their lives. Paul tells us in 1Cor 13:13, “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (NIV) Small investments now will pay off eternal dividends down the line.
Hit the Books
Did you know that approximately 90% of a child’s brain growth is by age 5? The sooner we can begin to stimulate our children mentally, the better they are likely to do academically down the line. For those of you dads out there with wee ones, just reading to your kids even if they don’t understand any of it will engage their brain in growth and development. And for those of us with older kids, studies have shown that even partial involvement on our part in their homework can lead to greater gains academically─ and it creates some great bonding time too!
Be a Kid with Them
The National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse has an amazing ad campaign you may have seen already: each ad always ending with their tagline, “Take time to be a dad today”. In the past decade or two, our children have lost an average of twelve hours of recreational play time per week. Dads, we should naturally be one of our kids’ best playmates. We love to push them to new limits, challenge them to take healthy risks, and are a great outlet for stored up aggression. In short, our playing and rough-housing with our children allows them to be kids—all while setting boundaries and instilling proper social behaviors.
Real Men Love Jesus
Of course, all our work here on earth would be for not if we weren’t pointing our children back to their Lord and Savior. Jesus is the ultimate example of what a man of God looks like. When we are walking accordingly with Him, it is reflected in every other area of our life. Fathers are called to lead their children in Christ, regardless of custodial arrangements (Eph 6:4). They need us to live this walk out now more than ever. Dads, it is vital for you to take your kids to church with you and to pray with them. And, please show them through your example the difference between a Sunday morning Christian and someone who follows Christ. If you’re still working on this personally, that is great! Just be sure to plug in with some other godly men to help keep you sharpened.
Failure to thrive is a serious condition, and I am surely not downplaying that—but causing a child to decline into failure is an even greater tragedy. Men, God has given us an amazing gift called fatherhood, let’s be sure to use it for His glory. As my good friend Kyle so perfectly puts it, “Show me a neighborhood where fathers are involved, and I will show you a neighborhood that is thriving.”