Peter H Brown Clinical Psychologist

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Dads And Kids: How Do Fathers Relate Best With Younger Children

With Father’s Day coming up on Sunday in Australia, I thought I’d post some topical articles. Here’s the first.

Source: Brigham Young University:
Dad’s task: Draw a sailboat with an Etch A Sketch in five minutes or less.

The twist (pun intended): Sketch the sailboat with your 6-year-old child controlling one of the toy’s two dials.

While it sounds like playtime, it’s really an extensive experiment on the relationship quality between fathers and children. Social scientists observed almost 600 dads in 10 cities attempt the joint sketch with their first graders.

But instead of awarding points for artistic quality, the researchers judged how well the pair worked with each other in a battery of team-play exercises including the Etch A Sketch challenge.

“By design, these tasks are too hard for first-graders to do on their own,” said Erin Holmes, a professor in Brigham Young University’s School of Family Life. “When a little conflict or stress occurred, we looked at dads’ ability to respond to their children’s feelings – negative or positive.”

The main conclusion of Holmes’ study? Children who had the best experience can thank their father’s child-centered parenting beliefs, which a statistical analysis showed to be among the most predictive factors of quality relationships. Child-centered parenting includes beliefs such as “Children learn best by doing things themselves” and “A child’s ideas should be seriously considered when making family decisions.”

More telling were factors that didn’t seem to matter: fathers’ income level, education, even the number of diapers they changed.* While these attributes have merit in other contexts, they didn’t influence fathers’ ability to engage their children in productive and positive ways.

Holmes is the lead author of the new study to be published by the academic journal Fathering. Aletha Huston of the University of Texas at Austin is a co-author.

The fathers who did not fare so well in the experiments hold more adult-centered parenting beliefs. These attitudes were measured by a questionnaire asking how strongly they agree with statements like “Preparing for the future is more important for a child than enjoying today” and “Children should be doing something useful at all times.”

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If adult-centered fathers perceived their child to possess strong social skills, however, the pair scored well on relationship quality in the playtime experiment.

Being a child-centered father doesn’t mean giving up notions of obedience and accountability, Holmes notes.

“Even though teaching your child to be obedient is an important part of parenting, you need to be willing to listen to your child, too,” Holmes said. “When parents pay attention to their children’s cues about how children feel and what they like to do, it produces better quality relationships.”

The data for this study come from a 15-year longitudinal study funded by The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

* Though not addressed by this particular study, avoiding nappy duty is suspected to impact dad’s relationship with mum.

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September 1, 2010 Posted by | Child Behavior, Parenting, research | , , , , | 1 Comment

Girls Who Get On Well With Dad May Have More Successful Relationships with Men

This post is is sourced from a series of reports on research presented  at the Annual Convention of the Association for Psychological Science in May this year. This one struck me as very interesting but not surprising.

Researchers have noted for decades that children view their home environment and relationship with their parents as “models”, and that this is usually reflected in how these children interact in new environments in the future. For example, children who are exposed to highly aggressive parenting are in turn more likely to use hostility and aggression as means to attain their own goals (see our review of Hoevet et al. 2009 meta-analysis on parenting and delinquency). Children also model positive behaviors. For example, children who see parents reach amicable resolutions to conflicts are also more likely to learn better conflict resolution skills.

Following this line of research, some investigators have examined whether child exposure to specific bonding or attachment styles are also likely to affect how these children act in their own close relationships later on. To answer this question, a research group from Rider University examined the role of the quality of father-daughter bond in the development of positive romantic relationships during young adulthood.

The authors studied 78 teens and young adults (average age 19), who reported on the quality of their relationship with their fathers and their current boyfriends. Three specific relationship domains were examined, namely: communication, trust, and time spent with their boyfriends/fathers

The results:

1. Girls with good communication with their fathers also had significantly better communication with their boyfriends when compared to girls with low communication with their fathers.

2. Girls with high levels of trust with their fathers also had significantly better communication and trust with their boyfriends.

3. Finally, time spent with their fathers was not associated with communication, trust or time spent with their boyfriends.

At first glance, the data seem to show that the quality of bond between daughters and fathers, specifically communication and trust (albeit not time), predicts better communication and trust with their boyfriends. One interpretation is that these girls learn to create secure attachments with their dads, which allow them to then have more positive relationships with their boyfriends (more trust and better communication). It is also possible that fathers contribute to the modeling/development of good communication skills and trust, which affect how these girls interact with their boyfriends. However, it is also possible that this reflects an individual characteristic of the girls themselves and is not necessarily a reflection of the quality of the father-daughter bond. That is, it is possible that girls who have good communication with their fathers simply have a specific temperament or communication styles/skills that facilitate the development of good father-daughter communication, and it is this individual characteristic that also leads to better communication with their boyfriends. But more than likely a combination of individual characteristics and child-parent relationships is driving this effect, which would be in line with previous research on the effects of adolescent-parent relationships in later romantic relationships. For example, Donnellan et al. (2005) found that both personality traits and parenting experiences during adolescents predicted the quality of romantic relationships in young adulthood.

All in all, the results are nonetheless very interesting in showing how the quality of father-daughter relationships may affect how daughters experience their relationships with their boyfriends

The references:

Nemeth, Ansary, Seiden, & Keith (2009). Father-Daughter bonds and the quality of daughter’s romantic relationships: Are the two significantly linked? Poster presented at the Annual Convention of the Association for Psychological Science. San Francisco, May, 2009. Dr. Nadia Ansary is at Rider University.

Donnellan, M., Larsen-Rife, D., & Conger, R. (2005). Personality, Family History, and Competence in Early Adult Romantic Relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 88 (3), 562-576 DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.88.3.562

Hoeve, M., Dubas, J., Eichelsheim, V., Laan, P., Smeenk, W., & Gerris, J. (2009). The Relationship Between Parenting and Delinquency: A Meta-analysis Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology DOI: 10.1007/s10802-009-9310-8
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July 22, 2009 Posted by | Intimate Relationshps, Parenting, Resilience | , , , , , , | Leave a comment