Father-infant interactions may predict toddler behavior

August 1, 2012

Fathers' interactions with their infants in the first months of life appear to influence children's behavior by the time they reach their first birthdays, British researchers have found.

Fathers' interactions with their infants in the first months of life appear to influence children's behavior by the time they reach their first birthdays, British researchers have found.

In a longitudinal cohort study, investigators assessed father-infant interactions in the home using a standardized scale when the child was aged 3 months and compared these interactions with the child's behavior at 1 year. The study included 192 families recruited from 2 maternity units.

Researchers found that key aspects of father-infant interaction, measured very early, are associated with an increased risk of behavioral problems in children at an early age. Specifically, disengaged and remote interactions between fathers and their infants at 3 months independently predicted externalizing behavior problems (oppositional, aggressive, and overactive) at 1 year.

The effect of disengaged fathers was the same regardless of what mothers did.

The researchers offer a number of possible explanations for the association between paternal disengagement and behavior problems, including dysfunctional family relationships, lack of child supervision, and attempts by children to elicit a parental reaction. It may be critical to address father-infant interactions very early in life, because they offer an opportunity for preventive intervention.

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. 2012. Epub ahead of print.