Fathers who engage with their children at 3 months may reduce behavioral problems at 12 months and later in life, new research at the University of Oxford suggests. The study authors followed nearly 200 families and found links between higher levels of interaction and fewer medical problems, the results being strongest in sons.
"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," study leader Dr. Paul Ramchandani said in a news release from the Wellcome Trust.
"As every parent knows, raising a child is not an easy task. Our research adds to a growing body of evidence that suggests that intervening early to help parents can make a positive impact on how their infant develops," Ramchandani said.
There are a number of possible explanations for the association, Medical Xpress reported. The researchers believed that "the lack of paternal engagement could reflect wider problems in family relationships, with fathers who are in a more troubled relationship with their partner finding it more challenging to engage with their infant. Alternatively, it may reflect a broader lack of supervision and potentially, care for the infant, resulting in an increase in behavioral disturbance. Another possibility is that the infant's behavior represents its attempt to elicit a parental reaction in response to an earlier lack of parental engagement."
Although the study saw a relationship between parenting and a reduced risk of behavioral problems, "it did not necessarily prove a cause-and-effect relationship," U.S. News 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.
Rachel Lowry is a reporter intern for the Deseret News.