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Recent research finds father’s prenatal mental health may profit child’s behavior and IQ

In a recent study published in Frontiers in Psychologyresearchers evaluate the association between paternal mental health and a toddler’s development during middle childhood.

Study: Longitudinal associations between paternal mental health and child behavior and cognition in middle childhood. Image Credit: PeopleImages.com – Yuri A/Shutterstock.com


Middle childhood, starting at six years of age, is critical for each child as a toddler learns novel cognitive, social, and behavioral skills during this transitory phase.

Studies have examined the results of paternal health on a toddler’s development during this important phase; nonetheless, focusing only on paternal depression but no other risk aspects, comparable to anxiety and perceived stress.

A meta-analysis reported that paternal mental health issues present while pregnant (prenatal) doubled the danger of psychiatric disorders in school-goers aged 6-8. Even paternal mental health-related conditions, e.g., substance abuse, have been shown to affect children adversely. 

Likewise, environmental aspects, comparable to family conflicts and differing parental views, may influence these associations. Nonetheless, there’s a scarcity of longitudinal follow-up studies examining the identical. 

Furthermore, there’s a lack of knowledge of how the sort of paternal mental health symptoms, their timing and severity, and other socio-environmental aspects interact with or mediate this association during middle childhood.

Concerning the study

In the current study, researchers prospectively gathered data from the primary trimester of pregnancy until a toddler grew six to eight years of age from 2,366 mother–father–child triads of the Design, Develop, Discover (3D) pregnancy cohort study done in Canada.

Perinatal assessments covered the primary self-reported episode of parental depression, anxiety, and stress symptoms and psychosocial measures, comparable to highest education received, quality of marriage index (QMI), and parenting perceptions throughout the pregnancy.

They used the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale (CES-D) to measure paternal depressive symptoms throughout the first trimester. 

Similarly, they assessed QMI, a six-item self-reporting questionnaire rating the extent of support received from a partner in childcare, household chores, etc., three, 12, and 24 months after childbirth.

At these three time points, each parent also self-reported the Parental Cognitions and Conduct Toward the Infant Scale (PACOTIS).  

Throughout the follow-up assessment done during middle childhood, they assessed paternal depressive and anxiety symptoms using the Beck Depression Inventory and Anxiety Inventory (BDI and BAI), respectively.

Likewise, a four-item self-reported perceived stress scale (PSS) helped them measure paternal stress levels. They used the Wechsler Intelligence Scale (WISC-V) for Children and the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) to make cognitive and behavioral assessments of youngsters aged 6-8, respectively.

A full-scale IQ rating was derived from a verbal comprehension index rating, and a fluid reasoning index rating was derived from the matrix reasoning and Figure Weights subscales. Further, the team collected the parent’s and child’s health history data.

Before proceeding to more complex statistical analyses, the team performed descriptive analyses for variables of interest and used Pearson’s correlations to evaluate the easy associations between predictors and outcomes.

They fastidiously chosen maternal mental health symptoms and the very best parental education level as covariates and accounted for his or her potential influence on all study outcomes.

Additionally they identified outliers that may skew results using a criterion of >2.5 standard deviations (SDs) from the mean; nonetheless, they found that every one data points were inside a suitable range.

As well as, the team applied a correction for multiple comparisons using the false discovery rate (FDR) method, as this study involved quite a few statistical tests.

The researchers then proceeded to regression-based mediation and moderation analyses to explore the mechanisms through which variables were related (mediation) and the conditions under which this relationship may change (moderation). The statistical significance threshold was set at a p-value of ≤0.05.

Various measures of paternal mental health were CES-D, PSS, STR, BDI, and BAI, and child outcomes were SDQ and WISC-V.

The researchers used multiple linear regressions to research the connection between these and analyzed each combination of each outcomes using regression evaluation.

Further, the researchers assessed whether the timing of paternal mental health, while pregnant or in childhood, was related to any specific child outcomes using multiple regression and moderation analyses.

Moreover, the researchers explored the mediating effects of father’s parenting styles on child development at 24 months.


All measures of paternal mental health (CES-D, STR, BDI, BAI, and PSS) and child’s developmental outcomes (WISC-V, SDQ) were in the traditional range, and more importantly, these tended to be lower than maternal scores.

Nonetheless, lower QMI scores at 24 months after childbirth were related to higher paternal prenatal depressive and anxiety symptoms.

An analogous correlation between paternal QMI and concurrent paternal anxiety and depression symptoms or child behavioral symptoms was, nonetheless, nonexistent during middle childhood.

Linear regression models showed that higher prenatal paternal depressive symptoms, as reflected in CES-D scores, were related to fewer behavioral and emotional issues in children.  

Post-hoc analyses showed that this relationship was related to externalizing symptoms comparable to conduct problems and hyperactivity within the child, with respective beta-weights (β) of −0.285 and −0.275.

Conversely, there was no significant relationship detected between prenatal PSS or STR scores and a toddler’s cognitive development.

At follow-up assessment, linear regression models showed that more paternal depressive symptoms measured concurrently via BDI were related to higher child IQ measured on the WISC-V (β = 0.246, p = 0.050).

These associations were primarily related to the kid’s performance on the fluid and matrix reasoning subscales, reflecting that these children had acceptable abilities to think logically and solve complex problems even without prior knowledge.

The relative strength of associations between childhood paternal anxiety and depressive symptoms and full-scale IQ was similar, suggesting these were unique. 

Moreover, mental health symptoms timing and paternal parenting perception (PACOTIS) didn’t moderate the observed associations. Likewise, paternal rankings of marriage quality (QMI) didn’t moderate the observed relationships.

Furthermore, evidence of the moderating or mediating role of certain environmental aspects in these associations was lacking.

Contrastingly, maternal anxiety moderated the connection between higher levels of paternal depression and cognitive outcomes in children aged 6-8.

Findings concerning the timing when exposure to parental mental health issues affects a toddler’s developmental outcomes are unclear. Thus, there’s a have to support parents’ psychological well-being pre- and post-natally.


Overall, the study data suggests that prenatal paternal mental health could also be moderately predictive; nonetheless, concurrent paternal mental health is very predictive of the cognitive performance of a toddler in middle childhood.

Yet it shouldn’t be clear when this switch happens and what are its underlying mechanisms, which presents an apparent paradox considering the present literature. 

It was also notable that a father’s parenting styles, comparable to showing warmth, were related to lower internalizing behaviors within the child, suggesting that fathers might help alleviate the effect of high maternal depression on a toddler’s behavioral problems.

Follow-up studies with larger sample sizes, even throughout the same cohort, may have the option to check these complex interactions.

On this study, children with fathers who self-reported higher anxious or depressive symptoms while pregnant or middle childhood performed higher on cognitive assessment and exhibited no or fewer behavioral difficulties in school. 

Nonetheless, given the complex nature of those associations, continued research on these is required across a spectrum of mental health symptom severity and on the longer-term social, emotional, and cognitive development of a toddler.

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