Fathers’ involvement in caretaking and emotionally supporting their spouses has a positive impact on their infants’ neurodevelopment, including motor, communication, and problem-solving skills, South Korean researchers report in a study published in December 2016 in BMC Pediatrics.1
Whereas this study on fathers’ involvement and its impact on neurodevelopment in their offspring focused on 3- and 4-month-old babies, researchers had previously reported that paternal engagement positively impacted older children.
“Father engagement seems to have differential effects on desirable outcomes by reducing the frequency of behavioral problems in boys and psychological problems in young women, and enhancing cognitive development, while decreasing delinquency and economic disadvantage in low [socioeconomic status] families,” according to a review published in February 2008 in Acta Paediatrica.2
Paternal disengagement with infants as early as the third month of life is associated with behavioral problems in children at age 1 year, researchers reported in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines,3 in January 2013.
Study data supports fathers’ influence
Because fathers’ roles are especially important during their offspring’s infancy,1 the South Korean researchers studied 255 married mothers of healthy infant boys and girls by surveying them about their husbands’ involvement, babies’ development, and maternal stress. Experts also visited participants’ homes to observe and report on infant neurodevelopment. The study’s aim was to look at the direct relationship between paternal involvement and infants’ neurodevelopment, as well as how maternal parenting stress might mediate that relationship.1
The researchers found:
· Paternal involvement had a positive relationship on infants’ neurodevelopment according to scoring on the developmental questionnaire completed by the experts making home visits.
· Fathers directly affected offspring’s neurodevelopment through such caretaking activities as diaper changes, dressing, and feeding their babies. Fathers also directly impacted their babies’ neurodevelopment by emotionally supporting their spouses.
· Mothers’ responses to such items as “My husband helps me by soothing the baby if he or she cries at night,” “My husband and I share the same values about child rearing,” and “It is very helpful to talk to my husband about our child” measured fathers’ caretaking activities and support from the mothers’ points of view.
· Parental distress, as indicated by mothers’ responses to items such as feeling trapped by parenting or that their babies rarely make them feel good, in part diminished the benefits of paternal involvement.
Further analysis showed that fathers’ involvement reduced mothers’ parenting stress, leading to positive infant outcomes, the authors write. Reducing maternal parenting stress is important because it directly influences infant development, negatively impacts parenting behavior, and delays stable attachment between parent and child, according to the researchers.
“The present study reveals that infant neurodevelopment benefits from paternal involvement even at 3 to 4 months. Although additional studies are necessary to confirm whether this benefit continues into later childhood,” say the investigators.
1. Kim M, Kang SK, Yee B, Shim SY, Chung M. Paternal involvement and early infant neurodevelopment: the mediation role of maternal parenting stress. BMC Pediatr. 2016;16(1):212.
2. Sarkadi A, Kristiansson R, Oberklaid F, Bremberg S. Fathers’ involvement and children’s developmental outcomes: a systematic review of longitudinal studies. Acta Paediatr. 2008;97(2):153-158.
3. Ramchandani PG, Domoney J, Sethna V, Psychogiou L, Vlachos H, Murray L. Do early father-infant interactions predict the onset of externalising behaviours in young children? Findings from a longitudinal cohort study. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2013;54(1):56-64.