Dad’s Role in Language Development

Why are Dads so important for Speech and Language Development in the Early Years?

Happy Father’s Day to all you Dads out there!

We know that Mums and Dads are crucial to the success of therapy. Over the years the roles of the speech and language therapist and the parent have changed a great deal. Parents are no longer observers of the therapy; they are an essential part of their child’s intervention. This shift in roles is based on the following:

  • Children learn to communicate during everyday activities and conversations with the important people in their lives – mainly their parents
  • Parents have many more opportunities to interact with their child in meaningful everyday situations than a therapist does
  • Parents know their child best and are her/his first teacher (Hanen 2014)

A lot of therapy these days is geared towards supporting the maternal relationship, without considering the significant role that fathers play.

Further, research shows that a high level of involvement by fathers has many positive benefits for children and strengthens early childhood development.

  • Such early, sensitive involvement by dads continues to deliver benefits. At age five, their children know and use more words, can pick out letters more accurately, and are better at problem solving; by age ten, their vocabulary is wider and their maths skills are better, too (McKelvey et al, 2010).
  • Verbal exchanges between fathers and their infants and between mothers and their infants are each found independently and uniquely to predict pre-schoolers’ social competence and lower aggression. These, in turn, shape their verbal skills in adolescence (Feldman et al, 2013).
  • Pre-schoolers whose dads read and talk to them a lot behave and concentrate better at nursery, and do better in maths as well (Baker, 2013)
  • Young children with two unsupportive parents score lowest on language development (Martin et al, 2007).
  • Toddlers with two supportive parents do best of all (Ryan et al, 2011)

Click here to check out some top research facts from the Fatherhood Institute.

What can Dads do to help?

  • Teach your child some new vocabulary. Click here to read our Guide to Vocabulary Teaching.
  • Correct any speech sound errors in a low-pressure way – for example if your child says ‘doal!’ you can say ‘Yes, you scored a goal’.
  • Practice using adjectives (describing words), for example ‘lets make the goal posts wider’ or ‘you’re the blue team.’
  • Learn important social communication skills such as turn taking
  • Use a great language model yourself so your child has someone to imitate and learn from

Did you know?

There is actually some research to suggest that we learn more of our vocabulary from our Fathers than our Mothers!

According to a recent study by Menghan Zhang, while we imitate pronunciation and sound from our Mothers, we actually acquire our vocabulary from our Fathers — a finding which completely contradicts ideas we’d previously held about language acquisition.


Baker, C.E , 2014. African American fathers’ contributions to children’s preschool reading and math achievement: evidence from two-parent families from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study – Birth Cohort. Early Education and Development, 25(1), pp.19-35

Feldman, R., Bamberger, E. and Kanat-Maymon, Y., 2013. Parent-specific reciprocity from infancy to adolescence shapes children’s social competence and dialogical skills. Attachment and Human Development, 5(4),pp.407-23

McKelvey, L, Schiffman, R. and Fitzgerald, H.E., 2010. Father behaviour in interaction with toddlers. Poster presentation at the 11th biennial meeting of the World Association for Infant Mental Health, Leipzig, Germany.

Martin, A., Rebecca M. Ryan, R.M, and Brooks-Gunn, J., 2007. The joint influence of mother and father parenting on child cognitive outcomes at age 5. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 22 (4), pp.423–439.

Ryan, R.M., Martin, A. and Brooks-Gunn, J., 2006. Is one good parent good enough? patterns of mother and father parenting and child cognitive outcomes at 24 and 36 months. Parenting 6(2/3), pp.211 – 228

Zhang, M et al. (2019). Reconciling the father tongue and mother tongue hypotheses in Indo-European populations. National Science Review. 6 (2), p293-300.

Alicia Lynch

Head of Speech and Language

Specialist in social and communication skills. Alicia is especially enthusiastic about providing speech and language therapy to children with behavioural difficulties and seeing the benefit it can bring.

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