Importance of Father – Child Relationship (Social & Sport).

Quotes from Footballers who have achieved prominence in football.

Frank Lampard: International Footballer. ”Dad was busy making sure that I was going in the right direction.   He played in the garden with me, teaching me how to kick properly, and encouraged me to be more confident”.   ”I was pushed and Dad has never denied that.   I always responded to his demands of me, not always in the way he wanted but he has a knack of knowing how to get the best out of me.   I would never had become a footballer had it not been for my Dad’s ambition, hard work and vision.

Peter Crouch: “I was always dragging my dad out to the local park to pass the ball around and was always on the lookout for a game.   When you are that age, football is all you think about and the chance to play it all day was all I wanted. *Dad just wanted me to succeed, and to do all he could to help.   For instance, when I look back now, I realise the effects of the extra work I did with him.   From the age of 13 to 14 we got into a routine of getting up before school to practice, just me and him.”

David Beckham: “As soon as I could walk Dad made sure I had a football to kick. I’d be with my Dad.   We’d start by kicking a ball around in the back garden.   All the strengths in my game are the ones Dad taught me in the park twenty years ago: we’d work on touch and striking the ball properly until it was too dark to see.   He would make me knock it in with both feet.   I suppose you could say he was pushing me along.   You’d also have to say, though, that it was all I wanted to do and I was lucky that Dad was so willing to do it with me.”

Robbie Fowler: “From as young as I can remember, me dad used to take me up to the all-weather pitch and we would practice.   Wind or rain, snow or shine, we’d be there.   I learned a lot when I was a kid from me dad and all that practice paid off.   I don’t think I’m a manufactured footballer, because its always been instinctive with me.”

Neil Emblem:   “Although Neil believes he has learned something from all the coaches which he served under, the main influence on him as a young player was his father.   His father was a respectable non-league player and Neil was steeped in a football culture from an early age.   “As a five year old my dad took me with him whilst he played his game.   Sometimes I could be left hours on end, playing football with the other kids, until his match was over”.

Robert Pires: “When you’re young there’s always someone to look up to, someone you want to be like when you’re older. For me it was my father Antonio. As a kid I’d go with him pestering him to take me to his games. I wanted to do what he did.”

 “Critically discussing the importance of father-child relationships to children’s development.”


The essay will discuss the relationship between a father and his child, and will consider the relationship’s outcome regarding the child’s social development.   This issue has prompted important research, mainly due to society’s interest in ensuring that future generations are brought up as well balanced individuals.   The main thrust of this essay will look at the father as a male role model and also the effect of father-child interactions in active play situations. A discussion will ensue on how this interaction will impact on the socialisation of the infant, and the effect on the child’s behaviour towards its peers.   The essay will start with a brief synopsis of the recent history and evolving nature of the nuclear family, before moving on to the main topics.

The evolving nuclear family.

Historically the nuclear family has been the cornerstone of our society and the roles of parents have generally been centred round the male as the provider, and the female as the homemaker. However, during the past fifty years there has been a significant shift in the role of both parents.   For example, in the immediate post-war years the father was still regarded as the head of the family and the main “bread winner”.   The mother’s role was mainly centred round organising the household and caregiving. This meant that the mother spent considerably more time with the child compared with the time that the infant spent with the father.   As a consequence, this led to the mother having a much larger involvement in the raising and development of the child.

As the twentieth century progressed the roles of parenting changed dramatically.   An affluent society has put pressure on parents to be joint “bread winners’ in order to maintain a high standard of living.   Due to a general paradigm change, the father’s role has now become much more associated with the development of the child.

The father as a role model.

The importance of the father in his child’s development is his influence as a male role model.   For example, Thompson, Molison & Elliot (1988), recorded that the fathers are the main factor in the gender-role socialisation, and when commenting on role specialisation within families, Russell & Saebel (1997), pointed out that children learn different skills and proficiencies from both parents.   These authors also discussed role specialisation, and how the child could acquire specific skills due to interacting with the father.

In instances of one parent families, many people believe that the child suffers from the absence of a father.   This is because the child is perceived as being raised and developed without a male model to guide them.

But how much of a detrimental effect does the lack of a father as a male role model have on the developing child?   The changing role of the father puts several questions around just what is a “male role model” in today’s family setting?

In a survey by Hofferth (1999) it was pointed out that few men reported that they learned how to be a father from their own father.   Marsiglio (1998) added that changes in cultural attitudes have meant that the masculinity previously associated with the father, may have mellowed somewhat.

The male role model, provided by the traditional colonial father, has now altered and diversified to the extent where it is hard to define exactly what the expression means.   Even though it does seem plausible that children who are denied the chance to interact with a male role model during their developing years, could undergo some kind of gender conflict in later years, however, there are too many variables for this to be conclusive.   For example; Cabrera, LeMonda, Bradley, Hofferth and Lamb (2000) point out that the timing of fatherhood is a factor to be considered.   Adult males have an extensive range of years when they can procreate, therefore, depending on the stage of life that the father finds himself during the period of the developing child, this can be a significant influence on his approach to fatherhood.

As men grow older they are likely to become more androgynous; as Brubaker (1985) found that in contrast to younger husbands, older men tended to take on more of the domestic chores in the household.   This “domesticated” signal to a developing child contrasts with that of a younger father who may be more boisterous and vociferous in his approach to fatherhood.

As was examined in the above passages, it is inconclusive as to what extent the “male model” can be attributed to the long term development of the child.   However, further discussion leads us to the next section of this essay, where father-child interaction in the context of peer relationships will be considered.

Father and Child interaction.

Changing social views have led to an expectation that the father takes more of a role in the upbringing of the child; this can have both positive and negative consequences. A positive affect is that it makes it more likely the father will form a strong attachment to the infant, and that the child in return will bond strongly with the father.

Bowlby (1969), wrote about the evolutionary role that attachment to parents plays in the development of the child.   It is acknowledged that this attachment is instinctive and biologically programmed.   To assist with bonding, fathers can bring their particular intensity and liveliness to the relationship with the child, particularly in situations of playful activities.   For instance, Field (1990) found that infants react positively to fathers play which is likely to be of a “rough and tumble” nature.   Clark & Stewart (1978), wrote that infants chose their fathers because of the more exiting and unpredictability of their play partner.   Carson, Burke & Parke (1992) reported that fathers indulge in rough games more often with their sons than with their daughters, however, many fathers involve their daughters in this type of play.   Russell & Russell (1987) found that fathers generally participate in more lively play activities with their child than do mothers.

There is a social expectation that fathers will play with their children in a more dynamic way, consequently, this active play with their children can have a major role in the socialisation of the child.   Lindsay (1997) found that boys who have learned play strategies with their fathers are more exciting and creative play partners with their peers. This often makes them liked and well received by their peer group.   MacDonald & Parke (1984) observed that the fathers’ physical play with their child was associated with peer competence, they also suggest that children learn important social meanings and ideas during physical play with their fathers.

It seems plausible that when a child exposed to lots of active play at home, then they can learn how to react to circumstances which arise when interacting with their peers.   For example, if play with their father gets over-exuberant the child can learn how to gauge the bounderies of acceptable or unacceptable behaviour and thus transfer these social skills into play situations with their peers.   It is well documented that when children are able to form friendships, and generally get along well with their friends early in life, then the pattern is set for positive future development.

However, although children who can take a leading role in initiating games are usually popular among their peer group, there are also cases where the child can be over aggressive and dominant, thus antagonizing others. For example, Isey, O’neil and Parke (1996) conducted research into, “The Relation of Parental Effect and Control Behaviours to Children’s Classroom Acceptance”.   In this well documented investigation the researchers studied children’s social acceptance or rejection with their peers and teachers. Their hypotheses centred around the outcome of active play between parents and infants.   Isley, O’Neil and Park (1996), suggested that children who benefited from a positive regular play environment with their parents, would rate higher on a social scale with their teachers and peers than children whose play with their parents was conducted in a controlling and authoritarian manner.   By sampling a relatively large number of children, the researchers were able to interview and measure which children were popular, or less popular, in a social classroom setting.   One of the findings showed that when the same sex parent and child played regularly together, in a somewhat antagonistic setting, then this contributed to inadequate social skills for the child.   This negative effect was strongest between fathers and sons.   Essentially, if the fathers showed periodic and intense bouts of anger and frustration when playing with their sons then this negativity could contribute to a lessening of the child’s social skills with their peers.

Even though the findings from this research confirmed the previous outcomes, that active play with parents does contribute to peer acceptance, it also highlighted that the issue was not straightforward.   It cannot be automatically assumed that because fathers indulge in play with their child that the infant will be advantaged socially. The kind of play needs to be of a positive and caring nature.

To sum up this topic; previous research has shown that parental involvement in play situations, particularly by fathers, does have a positive effect on peer acceptance in social settings.   However, Isley, O’Neil and Parke (1996), have indicated that the issue is not so clear cut and that other considerations have to be taken into account.   For example, the climate and mood in which the father and child interact has a strong bearing on how the infant’s social attitude will develop.


This essay has looked at the changing structure of the nuclear family in the modern era and how the roles of parenting have diversified.   The father in the context of a male role model for his child, has been explored, along with how ‘rough and tumble’ play with the developing child can have an affect on the child’s peer group setting.

Although both these topics are subjective and complicated issues, with many areas of contention, it would generally be accepted that a “correct” male role model for the developing child is desirable.   Identifying exactly what that role is in an ever changing society is difficult to pin down, and perhaps there is a broader range of roles these days.

There does seem to be a correlation between positive playful interaction between father and child and affirmative peer relationships.   However, Isley, O’Neil and Parke (1996) have made us aware that the ‘quality’ of the father and child interaction is the main contributing factor when measuring children’s abilities to form positive relationships with their peers.

Maurice Tillotson.

Education Dept, University of Auckland.   2007.


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Brubaker, T. H. (1985). Looking Forward Through the Life Span. 2nd edition.   Pub; Prentice Hall Australia 1989.

Cabera N, J., Tamis-LeMonda, C. S., Bradley, H. R., Hofferth, & Lamb, M. E. (2000). Fatherhood in the Twenty First Century.   Child Development, Jan/Feb 2000, Vol71, No 1, 127-136.

Carson, J,. Burks, V., & Parke, R. D (1992). Parent –Child Physical Play: Determinants and Consequences. In K.B. MacDonald (Ed), Parent/Child Play: SUNY Press.

Clark – Stewart (1978). And Daddy makes three: The father’s impact on mother and young child.   Child Development, 49, 466-478.

Field, T, M. (1990).   Infancy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Hofferth, S. (1999b, April). Race/ethnis differences in father involvement with young children: A conceptual framework and empirical test in two-parent families.   Paper presented at the Urban Seminar on Fatherhood, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.

Isley, S., O’Neil, R., & Parke, R., D. (1996)   Early Education and Development, January 1996, Vol, Number1.

Lamb M. E., & Lewis, C. (2004).   The development and significance of father-child relationships in two-parent families.   In M. E. Lamb (ED), The role of the father in child development (pp272 – 305). New Jersey: Wiley.

Lindsey, E. W., Mize, J., & Pettit, G. S. (1997).   Mutuality in parent-child play: Consequences for children’s peer competence.   Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 14, 523-538.

MacDonald, K., & Parke, R., D. (1984). Bridging the gap: Parent-child play: Consequences for children’s peer competence.   Child Development, 55, 1265 – 1277.

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Pettit, G.S., Brown, E.G., Mize, J., Lindsey, E. (1998).   Mothers’ and fathers’ socialising behaviours in three context: Links with children’s peer competence.   Merrill-Palmer Quarterly. Detroit: April 1998. Vol. 44, Issue2.

Russell, G., & Russell, A. (1987).   Mother-Child and father-Child relationship in middle childhood.   Child Development, 58, 1573 – 1585.

Russell, A., & Saebel, J. (1997). Mother-son, mother-daughter, father-son, father-daughter: Are they distinct relationships?   Development Review, 17, 111-147.

Thompson. D,F., Molison, K. L.,& Elliot, M., (1988 April). Adult selection of children’s toys: Eastern psychological Association, Buffalo, NY.