Academic journal article Family Relations

Resident Fathers' Positive Engagement, Family Poverty, and Change in Child Behavior Problems

Academic journal article Family Relations

Resident Fathers' Positive Engagement, Family Poverty, and Change in Child Behavior Problems

Article excerpt

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Children who have internalizing and externalizing behavior problems at early ages are more likely to show persistent behavior problems in later periods (Fanti & Henrich, 2010; Mesman, Bongers, & Koot, 2001). Thus, it is important to prevent problem behaviors in early childhood to avoid behavior problems as children grow (Campbell, Shaw, & Gilliom, 2000). Mothers' parenting or psychological characteristics have been implicated in child behavior problems (Hoffman, Crnic, & Baker, 2006; Mackler et al., 2015). Relative to studies of mothers, however, fathers' roles in the development and persistence of child behavior problems have been less investigated, although beneficial effects of fathers on children's development have been observed in social, behavioral, and psychological domains (Sarkadi, Kristiansson, Oberklaid, & Bremberg, 2008).

Focusing on the potential beneficial roles of fathers in child development, the purpose of this study was to test the buffering effect of fathers' positive engagement on the development of child behavior problems from early to middle childhood using data from continuously resident-father families in the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study. We also tested the moderated moderation effect of fathers' positive engagement by family poverty on the longitudinal links from child early to later behavior problems to examine whether the role of fathers' positive engagement as a potential buffer differed for families in different economic circumstances. Moderated moderation means testing how the moderating effect of the first moderator (M) on the path from a predictor (X) to an outcome (Y) can differ by a second moderator (W), as depicted in Figure 1. By examining the roles of fathers' positive engagement and family poverty as moderators of the associations between early and later child behavior problems, this study contributes to broadening our knowledge about important factors in the development of child behavior problems and yields implications for intervention and prevention programs.

Fathers' Positive Engagement and Child Behavior Problems

As the emphasis for the fathering role has expanded to include nurturing behavior (Lamb, 2010), caregiving from fathers is increasingly regarded to be as important as caregiving from mothers in the context of heterosexual families (Fagan, Day, Lamb, & Cabrera, 2014). However, a strong cultural emphasis on fathers' roles in playful interactions with children also remains persistent (Milkie & Denny, 2014; Newland et al., 2013). Paquette (2004) and Grossman et al. (2002) have posited that fathers can promote children's healthy social-emotional development by facilitating children's emotional and behavioral regulation and the development of social skills through sensitive, playful interactions with children.

Consistent with these ideas, father involvement in play seems to protect children from increases in externalizing behavior problems and from increases in internalizing behavior problems as well, particularly when parents have more supportive coparenting relationships (Jia, Kotila, & Schoppe-Sullivan, 2012). Additional evidence suggests that fathers' sensitivity and support during father-child interactions improves children's social skills and lessons externalizing and internalizing problems (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Early Child Care Research Network, 2004). Similarly, another study found that children at risk for psychopathology whose fathers were more sensitive during playful interactions were better protected from developing externalizing problems in middle childhood (Trautmann-Villalba, Gschwendt, Schmidt, & Laucht, 2006).

Researchers have reported that fathers' positive engagement could moderate the negative effects of maternal depressive symptoms on child behavior. Specifically, Mezulis, Hyde, and Clark (2004) reported that fathers' developmentally appropriate involvement with children was negatively associated with internalizing problems among children in kindergarten whose mothers were depressed. …

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