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Dads playing with children boosts mental growth

Fathers who interact more with their babies during the first few months of life may boost their child’s mental development, experts have found.

Children of fathers who are more engaged and active when playing with their babies perform better on cognitive tests later in childhood, according to a study published in Infant Mental Health Journal.

Researchers from Imperial College London, King’s College London and Oxford University examined how fathers interacted with their children and then measured cognitive development.

Experts examined videos of the interactions of 128 fathers when the youngsters were three months old. They then observed a book-reading session when the babies were two years old. Each child’s cognitive development was then assessed when they were two.

Children whose fathers displayed more withdrawn and depressive behaviours when they were three months old scored lower on the mental tests, which included recognising colours and shapes.

Children whose fathers were more engaged and sensitive as well as those whose fathers were less controlling in their interactions scored higher on the assessment.

“The clear message for new fathers here is to get stuck in and play with your baby,” said lead author professor Paul Ramchandani, from the Department of Medicine at Imperial. “Even when they’re really young, playing and interacting with them can have a positive effect.”

Dr Vaheshta Sethna, from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London, said: “We also found that children interacting with sensitive, calm and less anxious fathers during a book session at the age of two showed better cognitive development, including attention, problem-solving, language and social skills.

“This suggests that reading activities and educational references may support cognitive and learning development in these children.”

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