Fathers the key to child behaviour
Tuesday, 25th May 2004
Children who have contact with their fathers following a family break-up suffer fewer behavioural problems, academics said today.
Youngsters who have a close relationship with their natural father after their parents split up are likely to be less disorderly, anxious or aggressive.
Researchers discovered that children who had infrequent or no contact at all with their non-resident fathers were more likely to externalise and internalise problems.
Professor Judy Dunn from the Institute of Psychiatry at Kings College, London, analysed data collected from 162 children whose parents had separated over a two-year period.
Of those children, 18% had no contact with their father, and 16% had contact less than once a month.
The research was part of the continuing Children Of The 90s project based at Bristol University, which has been monitoring the progress of 14,000 children in the Avon area since 1991.
The findings were published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.
Prof Dunn said: "There is a practical message here - parents should make a great effort to get on well after they split up.
"They should put their differences behind them for the sake of the children. The more contact there is the better the outcome for the children."
Researchers interviewed all 162 children (initially at an average age of eight and a half) about their relationship with their mothers, fathers and stepfathers.
The mothers were asked to report on children's behaviour, on whether they were aggressive or delinquent (externalising behaviour) or withdrawn, anxious, or depressed (internalising).
The research comes in the wake of an attack on the Prime Minister with a purple flour bomb by campaign group Fathers 4 Justice.
The group claims current laws are failing children and fathers and wants better parenting rights for fathers.
Prof Dunn said: "This research is the best kind of thing to support the case of some desperate campaigners who want more access to their children.
"Our findings were unequivocal: more frequent and more regular contact was associated with closer more intense relationships with non resident fathers and fewer adjustment problems in children."
Prof Dunn noted that the amount of contact between a child and a father was related to the relationship between the parents.
She added: "This underlines the importance of parents developing a good working relationship over children's issues and of keeping any problems in their own relationships separate from their parenting."
The research showed there tended to be less contact between children and their fathers if the mothers had been relatively young when pregnant.