- Increased sensitivity and engagement seen in interactions between dads and their children, as well as secure father-child attachment, have been associated with reduced levels of child psychopathology, including reductions in child internalising and externalising behaviours.
- Paternal depression, which is one of the most studied problems affecting fathers, can impact upon the way in which dads interact with their children, and this negative impact has been linked to the development of child behavioural and emotional problems. Interestingly, it seems from some studies that girls and boys may be affected in different ways, dependent on the mental health problem their dad is experiencing (e.g. anxiety, depression, alcohol dependence).
- Key aspects of fathering, commonly affected by paternal mental health difficulties, can be positively influenced through parenting interventions. We think newer, innovative approaches to engage dads in parenting interventions are needed, to maximise beneficial outcomes for both the father and child.
So, what did we find? Well the nub of it was that the children of fathers who were more engaged when we saw them at age 3 months, did better on the Bayley Scale assessment at age 2 years. That is they had higher scores for their cognitive development (a bit like IQ). Child development is complex, and this study can’t tell us for sure that fathers being more engaged was what led to the children having higher cognitive development scores, but it fits with some other studies and so a pattern is forming which suggests that father engagement, even in the earliest days of a child’s life, can have an important positive influence on that child’s cognitive development.
So, what to take away for this International Fathers’ Mental Health Day. Well two papers on their own don’t change much, but they add to a growing body of research evidence which shows two things. First, that fathers roles in their children’s lives can be important, right from the very earliest days of that child’s life. Second, that mental health problems commonly affect fathers, they can affect not only dads, but also their partners and children, and efforts to recognise this, and provide effective and accessible help for families (both mums and dads) is important.
We’ve listed the references for the papers below, so that you can look them up if you wish – if you can’t get access to them, just get in touch.
1. Fathers, fathering and child psychopathology.
Barker B, Iles JE, Ramchandani PG.
Current Opinion in Psychology, 2017, 15: 87-92
2. Father-child interactions at 3 months and 24 months: contributions to children's cognitive development at 24 months.
Sethna V, Perry E, Domoney J, Iles J, Psychogiou L, Rowbotham NEL, Stein A, Murray L, Ramchandani PG.
Infant Ment Health J. 2017 May;38(3):378-390.