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Father-Infant Interaction Vital in Development of Child's Behavior Pattern

Update Date: Jul 19, 2012 03:09 PM EDT

Behavioral problem among children is getting increasingly common and the affects of it are seen when the child reaches adolescence and continues till adulthood. The consequences of behavioral problems are bad, including the child having to face peer-rejection in some cases, poor academic performance, poor psychiatric health and poor physical health too.

There have been plenty of researches attempting to find the cause of such disorders, with most of them concentrating on parenting and parent-child interactions.  However, the major area of study has always been the mother-child interactions and very few studies have concentrated on the father-child interactions and the effects of it.  

According to a latest research, the onset of long lasting behavioral problems could be from as early as preschool days of the child, and the role of a father in a child's life could play an important role in determining the behavior of the child.

For the study, researchers at the University of Oxford studied 192 families selected from two maternity units in the UK to find out if there was a link between father-child interactions in the early postnatal period and the child's behavior.

The researchers assessed father-infant interactions when the child was aged 3 months and compared these against the child's behavior at age 12 months.

It was found that significant aspects of the father-infant interaction, measured very early in children's lives, added to increased risk of behavioral problems in children at an early age. This study is the first ever demonstration of this apparent influence of father-child interaction on the onset of behavior problems in children.

"We found that children whose fathers were more engaged in the interactions had better outcomes, with fewer subsequent behavioral problems. At the other end of the scale children tended to have greater behavioral problems when their fathers were more remote and lost in their own thoughts, or when their fathers interacted less with them," explains lead author of the study, Dr Ramchandani, a researcher and clinical psychiatrist, now based at the Academic Unit of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Department of Medicine, Imperial College London in the press release.

"This association tended to be stronger for boys than for girls, suggesting that perhaps boys are more susceptible to the influence of their father from a very early age."

"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," Ramchandani added.  

According to the researchers, there could be many possible explanations for the phenomenon. A father who is in a troubled relationship with his partner could find it more difficult to engage with his infant. This could be lack of supervision and even care, for the infant, thus resulting in an increase in behavioral disturbance.

Another possibility is that an infant who has not been given ample parental attention in the beginning could behave in such a way, which would elicit parental reaction.

"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.

"As every parent knows, raising a child is not an easy task. Our research adds to a growing body of evidence which suggests that intervening early to help parents can make a positive impact on how their infant develops," Dr Ramchandani emphasized in the news release.

The study was published in Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

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