A just-released study shows that three-month old infants who have a strong connection with their father have fewer behavior problems at 12 months. Of course, the phrase “behavior problem” is a bit fuzzy when applied to 12-month olds. So to be more specific, the infants whose dads were actively engaged cried less, were less demanding, and were more social with others than infants whose dads were less engaged. The effect was strongest with sons—but girls benefitted from dad’s engagement too.

“We found that children whose fathers were more engaged in the interactions had better outcomes, with fewer subsequent behavioural problems,” said Dr Paul Ramchandani, a researcher and clinical psychiatrist at the Imperial College London, who led the study. “At the other end of the scale children tended to have greater behavioural problems when their fathers were more remote and lost in their own thoughts, or when their fathers interacted less with them.”

This study, which was published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, is important on several levels.

  • It’s great that dads are now being included in the discussion and that our influence is being recognized. Most studies that have looked at the effect of parent-infant relationships children’s later behavior focused exclusively on mothers.
  • It could change the way judges look at child custody cases when very young infants are involved. Sadly, in cases of divorce, “anti-father activists attempt to restrict fathers’ access to young children, especially infants, by limiting the frequency or duration of visitation, prohibiting over-night visits, requiring the visit to be at the mother’s house or in a supervised setting, and so on,” one blog follower told me. “All of this impedes or prevents the development of a close relationship between father and child.” This new study shows that these completely arbitrary barriers between dads and their infant children are counter-productive and can actually have serious long-term negative consequences.