While quality time spent with kids is always important, new research suggests it’s a man’s attitude that’s key to raising happy children.
The British study found that the babies of confident, enthusiastic fathers were less likely to develop behavioral problems by age 9 or 11.
“It is psychological and emotional aspects of paternal involvement in a child’s infancy that are most powerful in influencing later child behavior,” concluded a team led by Dr. Charles Opondo at Oxford University in England.
The study involved more than 10,000 children and their parents. The investigators found that an engaged attitude on the part of dads was even more closely tied to their child’s behavior than the time the men spent with their babies in childcare or housework.
Opondo’s team analyzed data from a British research project that’s been tracking almost 15,000 people since birth. The researchers focused on the answers to questionnaires given to parents of 10,440 kids who lived with both parents at the age of 8 months.
The study then tracked the behavior of about 7,000 of the kids at age 9, and about 6,500 of the same kids at age 11.
The findings showed that the biggest factors linked to a child’s behavior were factors related to dads — the father’s enthusiasm and confidence about his role.
One child psychiatrist was intrigued by the findings.
“Interestingly, the amount of time a father spent with his child was not indicative of the child behaving better later in life,” said Dr. Matthew Lorber. He directs child and adolescent psychiatry at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
Lorber stressed that the study couldn’t prove cause-and-effect. However, “the two most important factors predicting better future behavior were a father being confident as a parent, and a father reporting that he was giving warm emotional responses when needed,” he said.
“These results seem to back research that we know about children having more behavioral problems when their parents are clinically depressed during the first year of their life, because depression lowers confidence and decreases a parent’s ability to have proper emotional responses,” Lorber added.
Dr. Victor Fornari directs child and adolescent psychiatry at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y. He agreed that a man’s commitment to raising his children is crucial.
“The protective influence of having two parents, including a father, cannot be overstated,” Fornari said. “Those youth who do not have an involved father are at greater risk for more difficulties, and the absence of a father is a risk factor for behavioral problems in adolescence.”
The study was published online Nov. 22 in the journal BMJ Open.
There’s more on parenting at the U.S. Department of Education.