In two parent families if the father engages early on with a new baby the baby learns about the world more quickly, according to new research. The study was a collaborative effort between Imperial College London, King’s College London and Oxford University, and it centers on the male role in early learning and development.
The reason for focusing on the adult male is because there is already “compelling support” for the importance of a mother’s impact on a child’s cognitive development. What is less certain, since it has been under researched, is the association between father-infant interactions and how this affects later development.
The new study found strong evidence for active male engagement with their infant from as early as three months. The reason for this is, the researchers indicate, is because the male brings a different dimension than the female in terms of raising and interacting with their off-spring. These differences include the father tending to have a “more stimulating, vigorous” style; this leads to encouraging a child to take risks and the engage with exploratory behaviors. These are seen as factors that help to facilitate cognitive development.
This finding, which might be controversial in relation to single-parent households or with same-sex relationships where children are raised, was based on watching male and infant interactions via thousands of hours of video recordings taken from 128 father and infant pairings. The cognitive development of the babies in the study was measured up to the age of two years.
Lead researcher Professor Paul Ramchandani told the BBC: “Even as early as three months, these father-child interactions can positively predict cognitive development almost two years later, so there’s something probably quite meaningful for later development, and that really hasn’t been shown much before.”
The research has been published in the Infant Mental Health Journal, with the research titled (capitals are per the paper title): “FATHER–CHILD INTERACTIONS AT 3 MONTHS AND 24 MONTHS: CONTRIBUTIONS TO CHILDREN’S COGNITIVE DEVELOPMENT AT 24 MONTHS.”
The finding follow on from a different study that found confident fathers who embrace becoming a parent are less likely to have children who display behavioral issues before the teenage years (this was published in the journal BMJ Open “Father involvement in early child-rearing and behavioural outcomes in their pre-adolescent children: evidence from the ALSPAC UK birth cohort.”)