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The impact of fathers on children’s mental health

Lorraine Khan

9 February 2017

Whilst there is growing awareness about the importance of mothers’ mental health, less is known about fatherhood and the impact fathers can have on their children’s mental health.

Fatherhood: the impact of fathers on children’s mental health, our 50th briefing paper, explores the research available on this topic and highlights the distinct role fathers can play in nurturing good mental health in their children.

From pregnancy to adolescence, fathers are a major influence on a child’s emotional and behavioural health. They provide support in the same ways as mothers, such as through sensitive parenting, boundary-setting and creating secure attachments.

But they can also help to emotionally buffer mother and child against environmental stresses, and provide compensatory support should a mother need to recover from a mental health difficulty. There is also evidence that fathers facilitate their child’s linguistic development in a distinctive way.

In a minority of cases, fathers can negatively affect their child’s wellbeing. Certain factors can prevent or facilitate effective fatherhood, including:

  • Psychological factors such as motivation, or confidence in parenting
  • Social support including relationships with partners, ex-partners, gatekeeping of paternal involvement
  • Institutional, legal and policy practice such as father-friendly employment policies, welfare support, contact arrangements

However, there is evidence that initiatives which build the self-confidence, motivation and potential contributions of fathers can be effective. There needs to be more recognition of the protective potential of fathers to children’s mental health. With greater attention to the importance of fatherhood, we could give many more children, whatever their background and circumstances, a better and healthier start in life.

 

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