Everyone has heard, “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” But a new study shows that dad has a big impact on the family’s mood and well-being too. Michigan State University, published in the journals Early Childhood Research Quarterly and Infant and Child Development, finds a strong link between dads' moods and mental health and kids' development, both mental and behavioral.
The study looked at 730 families, mainly low-income, and their parenting-related stress. Using questionnaires that asked participants to rate statements like, "I feel trapped by my responsibilities as a parent" or "Sometimes I feel my child doesn't like me," researchers determined that when dads are significantly stressed and show depressive symptoms, toddlers' language development is adversely impacted.
Specifically, kids had poorer language skills at age 3. And while both genders scored lower on cognition tests, interestingly, dad's parenting-related stress and mental health seemed to impact sons' language development more than daughters', according to Psychology Today. Also interesting is that even when a mom's positive influence was taken into account, dad's mood still mattered.
The study also found that fathers' and mothers' mental health in general had a similarly significant effect on behavior problems among toddlers. Interestingly, fathers' depression during their kids' toddler years were more influential on children's later social skills than their mothers' symptoms.
Researchers suggest dads who are experiencing more stress may not be as keyed in to what is happening with their kids, which could lead to cognition delays and behavioral problems. This is especially true as modern dads spend more time with their kids and take on a bigger share of the parenting responsibilities.
The takeaway of the findings for dads, according to researcher Tamesha Harewood, Ph.D., is simply this: "You're important to your children, so you need to take care of yourself."
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