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Dad's Early Engagement With Son May Shape Behavior Later

THURSDAY, July 19 (HealthDay News) -- A father's strong connection with his child during infancy may reduce the risk of behavioral problems later in life, a new study suggests.

British researchers looked at nearly 200 families and found that children whose fathers were more positively engaged with them at age 3 months had fewer behavioral problems when they were 1 year old.

The association between higher levels of interaction and fewer subsequent behavioral problems was strongest in sons. This suggests that boys are more susceptible to the influence of their father from a very early age, the University of Oxford researchers said.

"We don't yet know whether the fathers being more remote and disengaged are actually causing the behavioral problems in the children, but it does raise the possibility that these early interactions are important," study leader Dr. Paul Ramchandani said in a news release from the Wellcome Trust, which funded the study.

Behavioral problems are the most common psychological issue in children and are associated with a wide range of problems during the teen years and adulthood, including doing poorly in school, delinquent behavior, difficulty making friends and poor mental and physical health, the researchers noted in the release.

The new findings suggest that efforts to improve parent-child interaction early in life may help prevent behavioral problems, the researchers said.

"Focusing on the infant's first few months is important, as this is a crucial period for development and the infant is very susceptible to environmental influences, such as the quality of parental care and interaction," Ramchandani said.

"As every parent knows, raising a child is not an easy task," he added. "Our research adds to a growing body of evidence [that] suggests that intervening early to help parents can make a positive impact on how their infant develops."

Although the study, published July 18 in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, showed an association between involved parenting and reduced risk of behavioral problems, it did not necessarily prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

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-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Wellcome Trust, news release, July 18, 2012

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