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Fatherhood: the impact of fathers on children's mental health

There is growing awareness about the importance of mothers’ mental health and the impact they can have on their children’s mental health. However, less is known about fatherhood and the impact fathers can have on their child’s mental health. This briefing paper explores the direct and indirect impact of fathers on children’s mental health, from positive supervision and language development, to emotionally buffering mother and child against environmental stresses.

From pregnancy to adolescence, fathers are a major influence on a child’s emotional and behavioural health. The relationships a father builds within a family are far more important to a child’s mental health than traditionally valued paternal characteristics such as intellect or masculinity. Fathers can create a high quality co-parenting alliance with their partners, including when fathers are not living with their children, and help their children to build positive, trusting relationships.

However, fathers have received little support to be the best parents they can be, and the importance of fathers’ own mental health has been neglected. Chaotic or conflict-ridden family circumstances, work pressures and stereotypes about masculinity can get in the way of being the best parent they can be.

This briefing specifically explores the role of fathers and focuses on their positive potential to have an impact on the wellbeing of their children.