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Your Toddler’s Next Tantrum Might Be Linked to Dad’s Stress Level

The new study emphasizes why postpartum mental health care is important for dads too.
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By Wyndi Kappes, Associate Editor
Published October 13, 2022
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Image: Bricolage | Shutterstock

There’s no denying those three months after baby is born are tough. Between sleep deprivation, the constant worries about baby’s health and safety and a general feeling of “Am I doing this right?” the toll on mom and dad’s mental health can add up fast. On the upside, more and more resources are being devoted to maternal mental health and ensuring moms are supported through baby’s first year of life and onward.

However, sometimes dads can get left out of the postpartum mental health conversation. The lack of dedicated resources for dads, mixed with the expectation for them to return to work and not ask for any help, is leading to neglected, overstressed fathers. A problem that researchers now say may extend past dad onto baby.

New research published in The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry shows a link between behavioral issues in toddlers, such as crying, tantrums, and aggression, and fathers who were highly stressed during the first year of their child’s life.

For the study, researchers surveyed more than 901 fathers and 939 mothers about their stress levels during the first two years of their child’s life and, subsequently, the behaviors of their child at 2 years old. Fathers were asked to rate their stress level on a scale of 1 to 20. Anything over 10 was considered high stress.

Of the dads surveyed, 1 in 10 fathers met this “high” stress criteria. The children of these dads, especially those highly-stressed around the 3-month time period, were two to three times more likely to have behavioral issues as a toddler.

Interestingly, paternal depression and anxiety did not have the same behavioral effect on children. Paternal stress alone made a behavioral impact, even when considering mom’s stress, anxiety and depression. Researchers believe this may be because dads are less willing to get help to manage stress and, as such, spread their stress around the household.

So what can dads do to destress and give baby the best atmosphere for development possible? In the article, scientists suggest that men explore possibilities around workplace flexibility, seek out support from other fathers, use mental health apps, join father-centered sports clubs and attend therapy.

Want to help a stressed-out dad in your life? Learn more about how your state can support working dads and explore these 10 tips for quelling new dad fears.

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