Early Engagement

Where Dads Matter


We’re talking to you, Dad. Dads and Moms are different. Dads think differently, learn differently, and parent differently. Dad affects kids’ development in ways that are separate from what moms offer. When attachment is strong, father engagement is uniquely supportive of:

  • The development of sustainable long-term mental health
  • Independent functionality – or the ability to “take care of oneself.”
  • Behavioral regulation
  • The development of social skills
  • Language ability

We could say “fun” too – but there is not scientific data on that. (Unless you count the work of Daniel Paquette at the University of Montreal: He suggests that father/child relations are characterized by “activation” as much as attachment, and thus they give the child confidence to explore unusual environments, take initiative, and take risks; supporting self-sufficiency and ability to function around strangers. These things promote individuality and autonomy, which you might call keys to success. But you could also call it a byproduct of “fun.”)

Dad is not an assistant mom, a weaker version of mom, or a backup babysitter. Dad provides for today, and takes care of the future.

Dad’s relationship to the kids is just as important as moms. It develops at a different pace, and via a different mechanism. But you can’t measure dads on a mothering scale – or really treat or support dads in the same way.

One quick example: mom tends to see fear and risk as bad – and wants to protect her child above all else. Dad wants the kid to be safe, too – but he also gets excited about getting the kid ready to take on the world, so he likes seeing the kid take on a little risk. Some things that are healthy and natural to dads (like “rough and tumble play”) freak mom’s out!

Moms and Dads Together Even when mom and dad don’t live together they are partners in creating the learning environment. Their relationship shows the kid how a relationship works, and it is a source of support for the child. It’s all about teamwork – and teamwork with Mom is one of the most important things we teach. And that work should start now – before the baby comes, ideally, before stress and sleep deprivation and hormones take their toll.

What we offer – we coach dads – our Strong Start™ program used to be “dads and babies in the same room” but now, it’s all online, so our focus is on what the dad-to-be needs to learn before the baby comes. We offer a new model: Almost all pre-birth parent education is all about medical survival of mom and baby – we want to slip in just a little bit of foreknowledge for the roughly 50% of all parents who are male… because once the birth is over, it’s on. And what helps the baby grow and be happy and capable and have a good life is having an involved and informed father. Fathers who are confident in their role, fathers who are involved, fathers who show up and pay attention: so good for babies, so good for moms, so good for our country, our culture and the world. By showing up, and paying attention, you can make all the difference.

Thanks for checking us out!



    Our nonprofit works on behalf of babies and toddlers by coaching “practices” for dads and their young children. Your kids get the most important learning in their lives before they turn 3: the “Thinking,” “Feeling” and “People” skills that determine lifelong success.

    We spend a lot of time on communication habits – so parent’s reflexes will support their kids in thinking for, and ultimately being able to take care of, themselves.

    In our Strong StartTM program, the big challenge is getting parents to slow down, to focus, and to get into the baby’s mental world.  These days of social distancing are the perfect time to work on building those strengths.

    The Mission

    Early Engagement is a nonprofit that helps children 0-3 develop lifelong mental skills by coaching adult caregivers, particularly fathers. Thinking, feeling and people skills are not “taught” – they are learned before age 3 from the child’s environment, which is dominated by adult communication habits. We work through parenting classes, coaching programs, media products, and advocacy – to give young children the mental tools that bring success in school, at work, and in relationships.

    Early Engagement is built on the simple truth that all parents want to do what’s best for their children. The educators, scientists and policy people behind Early Engagement recognize that a small investment in caregiver’s habits can have an extraordinary lifelong positive impact in the “Mental Wealth” areas of confidence, self-knowledge, resilience, persistence, focus, curiosity, and social skills, among others. Our Strong Start™ coaching sessions, starting with a Dads-only prenatal class, are constantly being improved, as build out our system out for large-scale positive impact. Please get in touch – please join us in working together for the future.

    Draft Research Brief: Father-Targeted Parent Education

    Most new parent education in America is focused on the event of birth and avoiding medical calamities in the first year. A small fraction of classes offered prepare couples for the predictable and daunting challenges they will face after the child is born. Research shows the association between family mental wellness and children’s development,1,2,3,4 but few parent education classes seem to focus on family mental wellness.

    Research supports a special need for fathers to receive prenatal parenting education.6,7 Fathers are increasingly involved in child care,8 and despite a strong research base that demonstrates the positive contributions fathers make to their child’s well-being and the negative consequences when fathers do not parent well,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16 very few existing parent education programs include fathers.17,18,19 The vast majority instead target mothers, which may prevent men from engaging in positive child care later. Only three researched parent education programs, to date, include fathers.17 When fathers are included in parent education programs, research suggests improved outcomes related to father’s involvement in childcare, father’s support of the mother, partner relationship quality, co-parenting relationship and the father’s mental health.20 One study of a father-involved family wellness curriculum showed that the program improved conflict management between couples, particularly in fathers. The program, called Bringing Baby Home, facilitated couples’ co-parenting skills over a two day, 10-hour workshop.21

    Fathers may especially benefit from father-only parent education programming. In an initial study of a pilot program targeting incarcerated teen fathers, researchers found increased quality of parent-infant interactions following each class.22 In a study of another couple-based that separated fathers into a fathers-only group curriculum, mothers reported that fathers who were placed into the fathers-only group showed significantly more improvement in partner relationships.23 Fathers also report great appreciation for social support amongst other future fathers in parent education programs.24 However, few examples of father-targeted family-wellness focused parent education programs exist.25 The lack of father-only parent education precludes most future fathers from the benefits of parent education and may limit their ability to contribute to their future family’s wellness.

    1 Antonucci, T. C., & Mikus, K. (1988). The power of parenthood: Personality and attitudinal changes during the transition to parenthood. In G. Y. Michaels & W. A. Goldberg (Eds.), Cambridge studies in social and emotional development. The transition to parenthood: Current theory and research (p. 62–84). Cambridge University Press
    2 Frosch, Cynthia & Mangelsdorf, Sarah & McHale, Jean. (2000). Marital behavior and the security of preschooler-parent attachment relationships. Journal of family psychology : JFP : journal of the Division of Family Psychology of the American Psychological Association (Division 43). 14. 144-61. 10.1037//0893-3200.14.1.144
    3 Grossman, F. K., Eichler, L. S., & Winickoff, S. A. (1980). Pregnancy, birth, and parenthood. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers
    4 Laurent HK, Kim HK, Capaldi DM. Prospective effects of interparental conflict on child attachment security and the moderating role of parents’ romantic attachment. J Fam Psychol. 2008;22(3):377-388. doi:10.1037/0893-3200.22.3.377
    5 Feinberg ME, Kan ML. Establishing family foundations: intervention effects on coparenting, parent/infant well- being, and parent-child relations. J Fam Psychol. 2008;22(2):253–263
    6 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3209754/
    7 Coiro, M.J., Emery, R.E. Do Marriage Problems Affect Fathering More than Mothering? A Quantitative and Qualitative Review. Clin Child Fam Psychol Rev 1, 23–40 (1998). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1021896231471
    8 Parker K, Wang W. Modern Parenthood: Roles of Moms and Dads Converge as They Balance Work and Family. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center; 2013. Available at: www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/03/14/modern-parenthood-roles-of-moms-and-dads-converge-as-they-balance-work-and-family/
    9 Alio AP, Mbah AK, Kornosky JL, Wathington D, Marty PJ, Salihu HM. Assessing the impact of paternal involvement on racial/ethnic disparities in infant mortality rates. J Community Health. 2011;36(1):63–68 4
    10 Alio AP, Mbah AK, Grunsten RA, Salihu HM. Teenage pregnancy and the influence of paternal involvement on fetal outcomes. J Pediatr Adolesc Gynecol. 2011;24(6):404–409 3
    11 Bianchi SM, Robinson JP, Milkie MA. Changing Rhythms of American Family Life. New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation; 2007
    12 Cabrera NJ, Tamis-LeMonda CS. Handbook of Father Involvement: Multidisciplinary Perspectives. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis; 2013
    13 Lamb ME. The Role of the Father in Child Development. 5th ed. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons; 2010 6
    14 Yogman M, Garfield CF; Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health. Fathers’ roles in the care and development of their children: the role of pediatricians. Pediatrics. 2016;138(1):e20161128
    15 Gambrel, L. E., & Piercy, F. P. (2015). Mindfulness‐based relationship education for couples expecting their first child—part 1: A randomized mixed‐methods program evaluation. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 41(1), 5–24. https://doi.org/10.1111/jmft.12066
    16 NICHD Early Child Care Research Network, (2000). Factors associated with fathers’ caregiving activities and sensitivity with young children. Journal of Family Psychology, 14(2), 200–219. doi:10.1037/0893-3200.14.2.200
    17 Lee J.Y., Knauer H.A., Lee S.J., et al. Father-Inclusive Perinatal Parent Education Programs: A Systematic Review. Pediatrics. 2018;142(1):e20180437
    18 Lundahl BW, Tollefson D, Risser H, Lovejoy MC. A meta-analysis of father involvement in parent training. Res Soc Work Pract. 2008;18(2):97–106
    19 Panter-Brick C, Burgess A, Eggerman M, McAllister F, Pruett K, Leckman JF. Practitioner review: engaging fathers– recommendations for a game change in parenting interventions based on a systematic review of the global evidence. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2014;55(11):1187–1212
    20 Individual analyses for each outcome and corresponding studies can be found in Lee et al.’s (2018) literature review (Footnote 17)
    21 Shapiro, A. F., Gottman, J. M., & Fink, B. C. (2019). Father’s Involvement When Bringing Baby Home: Efficacy Testing of a Couple-Focused Transition to Parenthood Intervention for Promoting Father Involvement. Psychological Reports, 003329411982943. doi:10.1177/0033294119829436
    22 Barr, R., Morin, M., Brito, N., Richeda, B., Rodriguez, J., & Shauffer, C. (2014). Delivering services to incarcerated teen fathers: A pilot intervention to increase the quality of father–infant interactions during visitation. Psychological Services, 11(1), 10–21. doi:10.1037/a0034877
    23 Diemer, G. A. (1997). Expectant fathers: Influence of perinatal education on stress, coping, and spousal relations. Research in Nursing & Health, 20(4), 281–293.doi:10.1002/(sici)1098-240x(199708)20:4<281::aid-nur2>3.0.co;2-c
    24 Gambrel LE, Piercy FP. Mindfulness- based relationship education for couples expecting their first child-part 2: phenomenological findings. J Marital Fam Ther. 2015;41(1):25–41
    25 Cowan PA, Cowan CP, Pruett MK, Pruett K, Gillette P. Evaluating a couples group to enhance father involvement in low-income families using a benchmark comparison. Fam Relat. 2014;63(3):356–370

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