Fathers have a much greater effect on how children turn out than was previously thought, new research concludes.
Fathers have a sizeable effect on cognitive and social development.
Any mental health issues fathers are experiencing, in particular, can be more influential on children’s development than those of the mother.
Dr Claire Vallotton, the study’s first author, said:
“There’s this whole idea that grew out of past research that dads really don’t have direct effects on their kids, that they just kind of create the tone for the household and that moms are the ones who affect their children’s development.
But here we show that fathers really do have a direct effect on kids, both in the short term and long term.”
The research was carried out on 730 families across 17 sites in the US.
The study looked at how parents’ mental health affected their children’s development.
Stressed fathers passed on that stress to their children, even when the mother’s influence was taken into account, the study showed.
Fathers with poor mental health (e.g. depression and anxiety) damaged children’s social skills later on.
In fact, depressed fathers had more of an effect on children’s social skills than depressed mothers.
Tamesha Harewood, first author of a linked study, said:
“A lot of family-risk agencies are trying get the dad more involved, but these are some of the things they could be missing.
When the agency is talking with the dad, it’s not just about providing for your child economically, but also to be there for your child, to think about how stress or depression might be influencing your child.
In order to understand and help children in their development, there needs to be a comprehensive view of the whole family, including both mom and dad.”
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