Fatherhood: the impact of fathers on children’s mental health
From a report by the Centre for Mental Health
Whilst there is growing awareness about the importance of mothers and children's mental health, less is known about fatherhood and the impact fathers can have on their children’s mental health. In February 2017, the Centre for Mental Health published, 'Fatherhood: the impact of fathers on children’s mental health', a briefing paper which explores the research available on this topic and highlights the distinct role fathers can play in nurturing good mental health in their children.
From the first spark of life, fathers can make a difference to their children’s mental health.
From pregnancy and early years through to adolescence, fathers are a major influence on a child’s emotional and behavioural health. Fathers, like mothers, can boost their child’s mental health through warm and sensitive parenting, good communication, boundary setting and positive supervision.
The relationships a father builds within a family are far more important to a child’s mental health than traditionally valued paternal characteristics such as intellect or masculinity. Fathers can create a high quality co-parenting alliance with their partners, including when fathers are not living with their children, and help their children to build positive, trusting relationships.
There is also evidence that fathers can sometimes have a distinctive and complementary role to mothers. For example providing emotional and physical support during pregnancy can buffer both mother and baby against environmental stresses, with major short- and long-term benefits. And the ways fathers communicate and play with infants may be more challenging and help them to engage in more complex activity, acting as a safe ‘bridge’ to the wider world. There is also evidence that fathers facilitate their child’s linguistic development in a distinctive way.
Yet for too long, the role of fathers in their children’s mental health has been ignored and poorly understood. Fathers have received little help and support to be the best parents they can be. And the importance of fathers’ own mental health has been neglected.
Many fathers struggle to make the most of their potential. Chaotic and conflict-ridden family circumstances, work pressures and stereotypes about masculinity can get in the way for some.
Most fathers want to do the best for their children, but some end up distancing themselves from their families and, in the worst cases, cause harm. 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
With greater attention to the importance of fatherhood and more support for fathers, we could give many more children, whatever their family background and circumstances, a better and healthier start in life.
Download the report here.
What resources does a church have to help fathers? The report makes an interesting observation, "In many cases, current parenting programmes could easily be renamed ‘mothering programmes’, as the involvement of fathers and a focus on co-parenting is unusual. To address this, parenting skills programmes should also be made more widely available in employment settings or scheduled at father-friendly times with benefits sold in gender-engaging ways."
Could you offer to run a parenting programme in local employers' premises through members of the congregation in the workplace? See a previous blog here.
And of course there is Who Let the Dads Out.
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