Dads who are slightly anxious or depressed raise kids with fewer behavioral problems and better test scores, according to a new study published in Frontiers of Psychology.
Researchers studied 61 children, 36 boys and 25 girls, and their parents. They examined how depressive or anxious symptoms in fathers during the pregnancy period, and then again when the children were between ages 6 and 8, affected the kids' behavior.
The results, researchers note, contradicted their hypothesis. The kids were all doing better than expected.
Children whose fathers reported higher levels of depressive symptoms were better able to sit still for longer periods of time, lost their tempers less frequently and had good attention spans, according to a questionnaire their parents filled out. They also had higher IQs, according to standardized tests, the study found.
This starkly contrasts how poor mental health in moms affects their children. Numerous studies have shown that mothers with depressive or anxious tendencies raise kids with more developmental problems, not less.
One 2018 paper, which reviewed 18 studies, showed that both maternal and paternal anxiety negatively affected offspring, however the influence of maternal anxiety was greater.
One possible reason paternal distress seems to have had the opposite affect is that these dads might be practicing better parental attunement, Tina Montreuil, a co-author of the paper and an associate professor at the McGill University department of educational and counseling psychology, told ScienceDaily.com.
Parental attunement is when parents are aware and responsive to their child's emotions.
"Since greater parental attunement is associated to child cognitive and social competencies, one potential explanation is that the fathers in our study sample may have shown greater attunement to their child to 'compensate' for environmental risk factors, such as maternal depressive or anxiety symptoms, or others known predictors," she told ScienceDaily.com.
But, study authors say, more research needs to be done on how fathers' mental health affects their offspring.
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