National WIC Association

Dads Matter Too: A Guide for WIC Staff to Engage Fathers and Male Caregivers

June 20, 2024


Father’s Day is More Than Just a Day to Celebrate

When it comes to a child’s development, the influence of parents is monumental. As important as mothers are to the development of their children, the role of fathers is just as crucial. A “dad” is not just a biological father, they can show up as grandfathers, uncles, and stepfathers. The National WIC Association (NWA) and WIC recognize the role that dads and men play and their contributions in supporting their children and families. Father’s Day serves as more than just a celebration; it’s an opportunity to highlight the impact that involved and engaged fathers have on their children’s daily lives.


Why Do Involved Fathers Matter?

As a child develops, the presence of a loving and involved father is invaluable. Fathers are not just providers, they are role models, teachers, protectors, and confidants. Engaged fathers are imperative to the social, emotional, and intellectual growth of children.

Research showcases that paternal involvement positively impacts children’s cognitive, social, and emotional growth. Dads are key to helping nurture resilient and emphatic individuals. Here are some reasons why the active participation of fathers is essential in child development and well-being:

Greater Empathy

Involved dads play a significant role in fostering empathy in their children. By modeling how to care for others and possessing strong emotional intelligence, dads can assist their children in understanding and sharing the feelings of others.

Healthier Relationships with Peers

Fathers can greatly improve a child’s ability to form healthy relationships with their peers. By engaging in social activities with their children, fathers teach important social skills such as trust and closeness. Reflecting on his experience, a WIC dad from Wisconsin emphasized, "WIC has taught me how to bond with both of my girls. The WIC program encourages healthier eating options and activities to keep adults and children active."

Higher Self-Esteem

Dads significantly contribute to building their children’s self-confidence and self-esteem. When fathers show genuine interest and provide encouragement in their children’s activities, children develop a stronger sense of self-worth. Specifically, a father’s presence in their children’s lives is positively associated with higher self-esteem and self-confidence.

More Self-Control and Less Impulsive Behavior

Children with involved fathers often showcase better self-control and less impulsive behavior. Fathers that set clear boundaries and help consistently discipline their children to manage their impulses. 

More Generous

The involvement of fathers encourages generosity and altruism in children. Fathers who model behaviors of generosity and involve their children in acts of kindness and giving back such as volunteering, thus instilling these values in their children. 

Increased Curiosity and Less Fear in New Situations

Dads often encourage exploration and curiosity in their children, helping them feel comfortable in new situations by providing constant support and encouragement. A study shows that fathers can serve as familiar and safe companions by providing new experiences to their children whereas mothers might avoid as dangerous situations.

Greater Tolerance for Stress and Frustration

Fathers help their children develop resilience and handle stress and frustration. By teaching problem-solving skills and offering emotional support, fathers prepare their children to cope with challenges. Children of involved fathers are more likely to demonstrate a greater internal locus of control and greater ability to take initiative, display less impulsivity, and use self-direction and control.

Higher Verbal Skills

The influence of dads on children’s language development is impactful. Fathers who engage in conversations, read, and tell stories to their children contribute to higher verbal skills and better communication abilities. Studies show that school-aged children of involved fathers have better quantitative and verbal skills and are likelier to live in cognitively stimulating homes.

Better School Performance

There is a strong relationship between father involvement and academic success. Children whose fathers are actively engaged tend to achieve higher grades and show a greater likelihood of pursuing higher education. This positive impact extends across various family structures, including two-parent, single-father, and nonresidential-father households. Fathers’ involvement in school is associated with better student outcomes, with a higher likelihood of students getting mostly A’s. 


Guide for WIC Staff to Encourage Co-Parenting

At the National WIC Association and WIC, we recognize the importance of encouraging co-parenting and the active involvement of fathers in promoting family health and well-being. Here’s a guide for WIC Staff on how to support and engage fathers during their visits to your clinics:

1.    Schedule office visits at a time that works for both parents – By offering appointments during evenings or weekends, WIC staff can ensure that fathers can actively participate in the child’s consultations.

2.    Acknowledge Mom and Dad as a team working toward their family’s health – Recognize that Dad and Mom are a team, which fosters a collaborative approach to parenting and reinforces shared responsibility.

3.    Politely explore both parents’ feelings about parenthood and their role in the family – During consultations, WIC staff should take time to ask about both parent’s perspectives on parenting. This allows staff to tailor support and advice that matches each parent’s unique perspective.

4.    Always use open-ended questions and maintain eye contact with both parents – Maintaining eye contact with both parents during conversations demonstrates respect and attentiveness, which fosters a supportive and inclusive environment.

5.    Make facilities welcoming to men and dads – Create a welcoming environment for dads to feel comfortable at WIC offices such as providing reading materials and resources that cater to dads, contributing to a more inclusive environment.

6.    Imagery and staff representation – Visual cues, such as posters and imagery, should reflect diversity in family structures, including fathers and other male caregivers. Staff diversity also plays a role; having male staff members who can relate to the experiences of fathers, enhances trust and engagement.


Empowering Fathers To Take An Active Role 

Encouraging co-parenting and involving fathers in WIC services not only improves the health outcomes for children but also strengthens families. By implementing these strategies, WIC Staff can empower fathers to take an active role in their children’s health and development, fostering healthier families and communities overall. Together, we can ensure that every child has the support and care they need.