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Fathers play critical role with children

by Micah Davis and Rachel Marie Sego
The Daily Universe (BYU) 7-2002

(U-WIRE) PROVO, Utah —Infant stress may be alleviated more effectively by fathers than by mothers, according to a recent study published by a University of Utah professor.

Marissa Diener, assistant professor of Family and Consumer Studies at the U of U examined infants’ relationships with their mothers and fathers and how those relationships related to the infants’ ability to effectively cope with emotion-arousing situations.

"We found that fathers, but not mothers, were important for their infants’ abilities to cope with stressful situations," Diener said.

Diener examined 100 12-month-olds from two-parent families. Babies’ reactions to the presence of strangers and the absence of parents were analyzed.

Those with secure father-child relationships used coping tactics to deal with separations.

Alan Hawkins, associate professor of Marriage, Family and Human Development at Brigham Young University agreed with the study’s findings.

"Watching mothers and fathers on a playground, you’ll see the father encouraging the child to climb higher, whereas the mother is more careful," Hawkins said.

"Fathers tend to be more rough and tumble, which can help children to regulate their emotions," Hawkins said.

Chris Porter, assistant professor of Marriage, Family and Human Development at BYU, said fathers tend to be involved and encourage more emotional displays than mothers, but he still will not discount the overall effectiveness of mothers in emotional development capacities.

"There is actually a very large body of research that states that mothers are also very effective in helping children deal with their emotions," Porter said.

"We do not know for sure if there were other intervening variables. We shouldn’t discredit that research," Porter said.

Hawkins, however, cautions that studies emphasizing differences in parenting detract from the ideal two-parent effort.

"There are some differences that are found, but in acknowledging those, you must be careful because mothers and fathers are overlapping in their care," Hawkins said.

"It’s like a tag-team effort that promotes balance," Hawkins said.

Diener agreed and said she hopes to see a move from an emphasis on mothering to an emphasis on parenting, where both the mother and father are involved in children’s lives.

"I think it is important for fathers to be involved as well, not just by earning money to support the family but being emotionally available for their children," Diener said.

The study will be published in the May issue of Infancy.

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