Reuters Health

December 13, 1999

Contact with dad means better language skills

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) -- "Wait till your father gets home!" used to be a mother's ultimate threat. But with the two-parent household becoming less and less common, University of Maryland researchers set out to study how important contact with dad is to children's development. They found that even when fathers do not live at home, children whose fathers are actively involved in their lives tend to have better cognitive and language skills and fewer behavior problems.

"We found that fathers who are involved with their children have children with fewer problems," according to lead investigator Dr. Maureen Black. "That added involvement from a father helps children tremendously."

Black and colleagues studied 175 three-year-old African-American children, most of whose mothers were receiving public assistance. Seventy-three percent of these mothers reported that their child's biological father or another father figure had at least monthly contact with their children. Of these identified fathers, 64% were interviewed and observed playing with their children.

The researchers wanted to see how aspects of father involvement were related to the children's cognitive development, language ability, and behavior. They found that both mothers' and fathers' satisfaction with parenting were significantly related to the children's cognitive abilities and to their behavior. Whether the father lived with the child was not related to either of these factors.

Maternal education and whether fathers contributed financially were also predictive of the children's language development and behavior. And where fathers lived with the child, "the home was more child-centered," according to the report.

Writing in a recent issue of Child Development, Black and her colleagues conclude that their findings support "the importance of father-child interaction to children's well-being." They also note that rather than just looking at whether the biological father lives with the child, researchers need to "consider father roles from functional and cultural perspectives."

"Fathers definitely play an important part in children's development," added study co-author Dr. Howard Dubowitz in a statement. "I think these results show that our society should develop family-oriented policies and programs that promote positive father involvement."

Source:  Child Development 1999;70:967-978.

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