Fathers’ Love Just as Important as Mothers’

Scientific research has proven that a mother’s nurturing is pivotal in an infant’s early development, but according to research conducted by one U professor, the role of the father is just as important.

The relationships between children and fathers during the first year of life plays a significant role in determining future emotional development, says Marissa Diener.

An assistant professor in the department of family and consumer studies, Diener, who specializes in infant emotion regulation, has spent six years studying the behavior patterns of children in the first year of life and how they respond to their fathers.

Infant emotion regulation looks at how infants cope with various emotions, said Diener.

“[Society] tends to emphasize the mother so much [in an infant’s emotional growth], I think fathers need to get involved in emotional regulation earlier in their children’s’ lives,” Diener said.

The study, conducted in a lab setting, observed 100 infants and how they responded when their fathers were in the room with them, when the child was left alone, and how the child reacted when left with a stranger.

This technique, known as the “strange situation” is a common tactic for researchers in measuring the emotional attachment between infants and parents. Stranger and separation anxiety from a parent is the highest in children between 12 and 13 months old.

Research most closely monitored the infants reaction when the father re-entered the room, said Diener.

Each phase of the study lasted three minutes and the results were videotaped and analyzed by Diener and her colleagues from the University of Illinois.

“[The study] found that children who had a strong emotional attachment to their fathers found various strategies to occupy themselves, such as sucking their thumbs or hugging a blanket,” she said.

Children without a strong emotional attachment to their fathers repeatedly expressed the same behavioral traits, like crying to attract the attention of their fathers, Diener said.

Although children express themselves more explicitly in later years, Diener says that the first year of a child’s life is important for many reasons, and that the first year is a crucial growing time for kids.

Infancy is a very common age group to study when talking about the relationships between parent and child, said Diener.

The relationships that children have with their parents as infants may predict the relationship children will have with parents when they are adults, according to Diener.

Diener also said that first year relationships between parent and child serve as a model for how that child will get along with peers, spouses and other non-parental figures.

Diener, now a parent herself, said, “I think fathers are crucial to the emotional regulation in their children.”

Diener’s findings will be published in the May 2002 issue of Infancy.

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