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Children May Be Less Likely to Misbehave with Fathers Well-Adjusted to Parenthood

CHILDREN whose fathers have positive emotional responses to parenting and a sense of security in their role as both a parent and a partner may be less likely to have behavioural problems, according to the findings of a large observational study.

According to Dr Charles Opondo and his colleagues at the University of Oxford, Oxford, UK, their findings suggest that psychological and emotional aspects of paternal involvement during a child’s infancy have the strongest influence on future child behaviour. They also show that the amount of time a father engaged in childcare or domestic involvement was not associated with later child behavioural problems.

Dr Opondo and the team used data taken from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) cohort. It consists of nearly 15,000 children born to mothers living in the former county of Avon in the Southwest of England between April 1991 and December 1992. The researchers asked the fathers of 10,440 children to complete a detailed questionnaire to assess paternal involvement in the child’s upbringing at 8 weeks and 8 months postnatally.

When these children were aged 9 and 11 years old their behaviour was assessed using the strength and difficulties questionnaire (SDQ) completed by the mother. The SDQ was used to measure the child’s behaviour by analysing emotional symptoms, conduct problems, hyperactivity, and peer relationship problems. In the final analysis, 6,898 9 year olds and 6,328 of these same children at age 11 were included.

The children of fathers whose questionnaire responses corresponded to having a strong emotional response to the child and parenting had 21% and 19% reductions in the proportional odds of having a higher score on the SDQ. A higher score indicates behavioural problems. A strong emotional response to the child included factors such as feeling confident with the child and feeling closer to their partner as the result of parenthood. Additionally, a 28% reduction in proportional odds of behavioural problems was reported in the children, at both ages, of fathers whose responses related to feeling secure in their role as a parent and partner.

The authors noted the limitations of their study. This included basing their study on the ALSPAC cohort who were born 25 years ago which limited the generalisability of their findings to the present day when paternal involvement evolves over time.

Jack Redden, Reporter

Keywords: Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), Behaviour, childhood, children, Fathers, Parenting, Strength and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ)