PhotoIt’s no secret that fathers play an important role in their children’s lives, but a new study finds that a father’s attitude is everything when it comes to reducing the likelihood that children will suffer from behavioral problems as pre-teens.

Researchers from Oxford University found that children raised by fathers who were confident and “enthusiastic” in their paternal role were less likely to develop behavioral problems by age 9 or 11.

Writing in the journal BMJ Open, the authors concluded that the findings suggest that a father’s emotional involvement has a greater impact on children’s behavior than time spent performing practical childcare duties.

“The findings of this research study suggest that it is psychological and emotional aspects of paternal involvement in a child's infancy that are most powerful in influencing later child behaviour and not the amount of time that fathers are engaged in childcare or domestic tasks in the household.”

Strong bond in early years

The researchers from Oxford's National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit found that a close paternal bond can have a lasting impact if it's developed during children’s early years.

“How new fathers see themselves as parents, how they value their role as a parent and how they adjust to this new role, rather than the amount of direct involvement in childcare in this period, appears to be associated with positive behavioural outcomes in children.”

Findings from the observational study, which involved more than 10,000 children and their parents, showed that dads who formed a strong bond with their child and embraced their role as a father were more likely to have a better-behaved pre-teen.

The factors most strongly associated with lower odds of behavioral problems at age 9 and 11 were a father's enthusiasm and confidence in his role. Dads who showed these markers of involvement were 28% likely to later have pre-teens with behavioral problems. 

"A high quality of involvement with children, right from their infancy and continuing through childhood, helps establish a solid foundation for good outcomes later on in life," said lead researcher Charles Opondo. 

"For fathers, positive involvement goes beyond child-care activities; feeling good about being a dad, making an emotional connection to children, and establishing a secure parenting relationship with mothers are perhaps even more important."

The study was published online in the journal BMJ Open.

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