Early father-baby interaction ‘boosts mental development’

Study finds cognitive benefits for children whose fathers are more engaging at playtime

Babies whose fathers are more engaging and active during play show better cognitive development, according to a new study. Photograph: iStock

Babies whose fathers are more engaging and active during play show better cognitive development, according to a new study. Photograph: iStock

 

Children whose fathers interact more with them at an early age have better mental development, a new study has found.

In a study published in the Infant Mental Health Journal, researchers from Imperial College London, King’s College London and Oxford University examined at how fathers interacted with their babies at three months of age and measured the infants’ cognitive development more than a year later.

The researchers found that babies whose fathers were more engaged and active when playing with them in their initial months performed better in cognitive tests at two years of age.

Prof Paul Ramchandani, from the Department of Medicine at Imperial and who led the research, said: “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.”

Dr Vaheshta Sethna from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London, said the study also found that children interacting with sensitive, calm and less anxious fathers during a book session at the age of two “showed better cognitive development, including attention, problem-solving, language and social skills”.

“ This suggests that reading activities and educational references may support cognitive and learning development in these children,” said Dr Sethna.

The study had some limitations, including that parents recruited to the study were drawn from a relatively well-educated population. In addition, the measure of interactions were taken from relatively short videos, so may not represent how they interact in other situations.

The researchers are now working on a trial based on helping parents with child interaction and then giving them positive feedback to help them deal with challenging behaviour.