OXFORD, August 10, 2012, ( – A study carried from Oxford University has found that fathers who have a close, loving relationship with their infant children have a profound impact on the behavioral development of their kids as they grow older.

In a sample of 192 families, researchers observed fathers interacting with their three-month-old babies in the home, then assessed the same children’s behavior at one year of age.

The university videotaped the interaction after they asked dads to play with their three-month-old infants in a baby seat and on a floor mat without using toys or other objects.


The researchers hypothesized that “children whose fathers’ were more engaged and sensitive/responsive in their interactions would have lower levels of behavioral problems.”

When the children turned one, the parents were asked to complete questionnaires, including an internationally recognized child behavior checklist.

They found that babies whose dads lovingly interacted with them at three months had fewer problems when assessed nine months later.

Lead researcher Dr. Paul Ramchandani of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Oxford observed, “At the other end of the scale, children tended to have greater behavioral problems when their fathers were more remote or interacted less with them.”

“The association tended to be stronger for boys than for girls,” Ramchandani noted, “suggesting that perhaps boys are more susceptible to the influence of their father from a very early age.”

The report, published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, referred to research showing that “Behavioral disorders are the commonest psychological problem affecting children.” They could causepoor outcomes in adolescence and adulthood, “including academic failure, delinquency, peer rejection, and poor psychiatric and physical health.”

The “trajectories of behavioral problems often extend back into the preschool years,” it found. Surprisingly, few studies had assessed the role of fathers in this process, according to the study.

Professor Ronald Rohner, of the University of Connecticut, who analyzed 36 studies involving more than 10,000 participants, carried out one such study published in the June issue of Personality and Social Psychology Review. Professor Rohner found that a present and loving father was crucial to a child’s positive behavioral development, whereas children with absent or rejecting fathers tended to have more problems with anger, hostility, and aggression.

“In the U.S., Great Britain, and Europe, we have assumed for the past 300 years that all children need for normal healthy development is a loving relationship with their mother. And that dads are there as support for the mother and to support the family financially but are not required for the healthy development of the children,” Rohner said. “But that belief is fundamentally wrong.”

“We have to start getting away from that idea and realize the dad’s influence is as great, and sometimes greater, than the mother’s,” he said.

Norman Wells of the UK’s Family Education Trust, said the Rohner study “underlines the importance of intact and stable families where both the father and the mother are committed to bringing up their children together.

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“Successive governments have failed to recognize the fact that men and women are different and that they parent differently, pretending that one parent is as good as two, or that two parents of the same sex are as good as two natural parents of the opposite sex,” Wells said.

The full text of the Oxford study, titled “Do early father–infant interactions predict the onset of externalising behaviours in young children? Findings from a longitudinal cohort study,” is available here.



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