Children whose fathers are more engaged with them at 3 months have fewer behavioral problems at 12 months, according to new research.
Researchers at the University of Oxford studied 192 families recruited from two maternity units in the UK to see whether there was a link between father-child interactions in the early postnatal period and the child’s behavior.
“We found that children whose fathers were more engaged in the interactions had better outcomes, with fewer subsequent behavioral problems,” said Dr. Paul Ramchandani, who led the study.
“At the other end of the scale, children tended to have greater behavioral problems when their fathers were more remote and lost in their own thoughts, or when their fathers interacted less with them.”
The association tended to be stronger for boys than for girls, suggesting that boys may be more susceptible to the influence of their fathers from a very early age, he said.
“We don’t yet know whether the fathers being more remote and disengaged are actually causing the behavioral problems in the children, but it does raise the possibility that these early interactions are important,” he added.
The researchers believe there are a number of possible explanations for the link. The lack of engagement by the father could reflect wider problems in family relationships, with fathers who are in a more troubled relationship with their partners finding it more challenging to engage with their infants, they said.
Alternatively, it may reflect a lack of supervision and care for the infant, resulting in an increase in behavioral problems.
Another possibility is that the infant’s behavior represents its attempts to elicit a parental reaction in response to an earlier lack of parental engagement, the researchers said.
“Focusing on the infant’s first few months is important as this is a crucial period for development and the infant is very susceptible to environmental influences, such as the quality of parental care and interaction,” Ramchandani said.
“As every parent knows, raising a child is not an easy task. Our research adds to a growing body of evidence which suggests that intervening early to help parents can make a positive impact on how their infant develops.”
The research was published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.
Source: Wellcome Trust