Reciprocal relationships between paternal psychological distress and child internalising and externalising difficulties from 3 to 14 years: a cross-lagged analysis

Maria Sifaki, Emily Midouhas, Efstathios Papachristou, Eirini Flouri
European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry 2020 September 17
Research shows that paternal psychological distress is associated with child emotional and behavioural difficulties. However, little is known about the direction of this association including whether it is bidirectional. The aim of this study was to explore the reciprocal relationships between paternal psychological distress and child emotional and behavioural problems longitudinally (at ages 3, 5, 7, 11 and 14 years) in a sample of 13,105 children (49% girls) who participated in the UK's Millennium Cohort Study (MCS), a large-scale, nationally representative, longitudinal survey. Four domains of child problems (emotional symptoms, peer relations, conduct problems and hyperactivity/inattention) were measured with the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire and paternal psychological distress was measured with the Kessler K-6 scale. Data were analysed using cross-lagged path models. At all ages, paternal psychological distress predicted both subsequent child emotional symptoms as well as peer problems. Paternal psychological distress at child's age 3 was related to more hyperactivity at age 5 and, at age 5, paternal psychological distress was associated with more conduct problems at age 7. At age 11, paternal distress was also related to age 14 conduct problems and hyperactivity. Child effects were fewer and were found mainly for behavioural problems. Notably, we found bidirectional links between paternal psychological distress and child peer difficulties, from 11 to 14 years. Paternal psychological distress appears to influence child behaviour more consistently than the converse. However, in early adolescence, there appears to be a reciprocal relationship between fathers' mental health problems and children's peer problems.

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