Father-child relationships and children's socio-emotional wellbeing

Nowadays, fathers generally expect to take a close interest in raising a child. Typically, fathers may not spend quite as much time as mothers interacting with their children and on routine care; however, recent theorising about the role of fathers suggests that the quality of father-child relationships may be more important for children than fathers’ time involvement.

A new study looks at how the quality of father-child relationships is associated with children’s socio-emotional wellbeing. It also explores circumstances linked to low quality father-child relationships.

Ten-year old children from over 2,500 families in the Growing Up in Scotland study were asked a series of questions about their trust in, and ability to communicate with, their resident father. This provided a measure of father-child relationship quality, based on fathers’ emotional support for children. Most children were very positive about their fathers, with 84% of father-child relationships being classified as “good” or “excellent”. However, a substantial minority of children (16%) experienced low supportiveness, classified as a “poor” relationship.

Better father-child relationships were associated with greater overall child socio-emotional wellbeing, as measured by lower levels of behavioural and emotional difficulties, and greater life satisfaction. Children perceiving more emotional support from a father also experienced greater wellbeing outside the home, being more likely to enjoy school, and have good relationships with teachers and peers.

Poor father-child relationships were more likely to be found in families with lower economic resources or experiencing multiple adverse family events. However, father-child relationships were generally better where there was a supportive relationship between parents and a cohesive family climate, pointing to the potential value of measures that strengthen these aspects of family life.

Children perceived lower levels of supportiveness from non-biological father figures than from biological fathers, suggesting that men who find themselves in the position of being a father figure may have particular difficulties in defining their role. Further study of father figures’ needs is required in order to further our understanding of how best to support them.

The study was commissioned by the Scottish Government in collaboration with Fathers Network Scotland as part of the Year of the Dad 2016.[1] It was conducted by Alison Parkes, Julie Riddell, Katie Buston and Daniel Wight from the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow. A link to the full report can be found here: https://www.gov.scot/publications/growing-up-scotland-father-child-relationships-child-socio-emotional-wellbeing/

More information about the Growing Up in Scotland Study can be found here: https://growingupinscotland.org.uk