A father’s direct involvement with a child plays a smaller role in affecting the child’s behaviour than previously thought, a study has suggested.

The study, published in BMJ Open, explores the relationship between a father’s involvement in a child’s upbringing at eight weeks and eight months old and the child’s behaviour at age nine and 11.

Mothers were asked to complete a strengths and difficulties questionnaire (SDQ) during the four test periods, which includes questions about their child’s attitude towards other children, whether they were willing to share toys, as well as their confidence in unfamiliar situations at ages nine and 11.

Meanwhile, fathers were asked to complete a questionnaire on paternal involvement.

The researchers were looking at three areas of involvement: a father’s emotional response to the child, the frequency of his involvement in housework and childcare activities, and his feelings of security in his role as a parent and partner.

Data was also obtained about parent’s mental health and socioeconomic status.

The results indicated that direct involvement with a child had little impact on the child’s behavioural attitude.

Across the 6,300 children who were involved with the study, researchers found that children whose fathers had a sense of security in their role as a parent, and who were more positive about the role, were less likely to show behavioural difficulties by the ages of nine and 11.

Meanwhile, the degree to which a father engaged with tasks such as shopping, cleaning, cooking and childcare activities was not associated with later behavioural problems.

The researchers said: “Psychological and emotional aspects of paternal involvement in children’s early upbringing, particularly how new fathers see themselves as parents and adjust to the role, rather than the quantity of direct involvement in childcare, is associated with positive behavioural outcomes in children.”