My husband often reminds me I am the center of our family, and my mood affects everyone living under our roof. It's a responsibility I don't take lightly. Each day, the impact my mental health and happiness has on my children is a driving force behind my outlook on life and how I express myself and treat others.
Well, now a new study out of 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. Honey, it seems I'm not the only parent who has to keep tabs on my stress level and general disposition!
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 athers' 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.
Lead researcher Claire Vallotton, Ph.D., associate professor of child development at Michigan State University, commented on the findings in a statement, saying, "There's this whole idea that grew out of past research that dads really don't have direct effects on their kids, that they just kind of create the tone for the household and that moms are the ones who affect their children's development. But here we show that fathers really do have a direct effect on kids, both in the short term and long term."
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." She adds, "Fathers shouldn't feel like they're 'less manly' because they need help."
Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.