Involved Fathers Help Children Have Better Social And Motor Skills

The study from Japan also showed that when fathers were more involved, mothers experienced less parental stress.

Asian Scientist Magazine (Sept. 17, 2023) — It seems men are beginning to shed the stereotype of distant and aloof fathers. They are getting more involved in raising their kids. Although this trend is more prominent in developed countries, dads around the world are more involved today.

While there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that involvement of fathers in addition to mothers lead to happier families, few studies have looked systematically at the positive impact of an involved father on a child’s physical and cognitive development. In a study published in Pediatric Research, researchers from Doshisha University and Kyoto University found that children with highly involved fathers had a lower risk of developmental delays.

The benefits of increased father involvement weren’t limited to children alone. “Our research findings indicate that increased paternal engagement in childcare could yield advantages for both children and mothers alike,” said Tsuguhiko Kato, a public health researcher and the study’s corresponding author.

Kato and colleagues analyzed birth cohort data from the Japan Environment and Children’s Study, an ongoing project examining how the environment impacts children’s health. For 28,050 children, they looked at the level of a father’s involvement in childcare when the children were six months old and the risk of developmental delays at the age of three years. These children were all first-borns in two-parent households and had no physical disabilities to avoid factors that might exacerbate the rates of developmental delays.

Fathers who spent four or more years in college or were professionally more qualified than their wives were less likely to be highly involved as compared to those married to women with similar degrees. When either mothers or fathers had only high-school diplomas, as well as for households with lower incomes, the fathers were likely to be more involved in childcare. However, the study doesn’t explore the reasons why that is happening.

Children of involved fathers were also less likely to be exclusively breastfed and more likely to be at daycare at 6 months old. The presence of grandparents in the family made no difference to the likelihood of the father being more or less involved in childcare.

For all indicators tested, children with highly involved fathers were less likely to be developmentally delayed. These indicators included communication, social skills, and motor skills. The biggest difference was noticed in the case of gross motor skills which involves actions like jumping in place or pedaling a tricycle. This shows that the father-child relationship plays a significant role in physical development.

Lastly, the research looked at the stress on mothers, as assessed with a Japanese version of the Parenting Stress Index, an assessment tool that measures how parents respond to childcare stress. In families with highly involved fathers, the mothers had lower parenting-related stress. Moreover, the reduction in stress among mothers was part of the reason behind the better developmental indicators among children with highly involved fathers.

The Japanese government is encouraging greater paternal involvement as a step against lower fertility rates in the country. However, there is much to be desired when it comes to prevailing social attitudes. Even though men in Japan are entitled to four weeks of paternal leave, many are too afraid to take it for fear of it hurting their careers.

Regardless, the findings of this study lend support to growing evidence of the wide-ranging family health benefits of equitable housework. Any progress toward gender equality is good for the emotional and physical well-being of everyone involved.

“Sharing childcare responsibilities could also enhance the quality of partnership between the mothers and fathers,” the authors stated.

Source: Doshisha University ; Image: Shutterstock

The paper can be found at: Paternal involvement in infant care and developmental milestone outcomes at age 3 years: the Japan Environment and Children’s Study (JECS) | Pediatric Research

Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

Sachin Rawat is a freelance science writer & journalist based in Bangalore, India.

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