Babies who are positively engaged with their father at three months old have fewer behavioural problems by the age of one, a study suggests.
Behavioural problems are one of the most common psychological problems affecting children, and have been linked to a range of health and psychological problems in teenagers and adults, the researchers from Oxford University said.
And although "parental factors" have been associated with child behaviour problems, research into this has usually focused on the role of the mother, when fathers also play an important role, they said.
For this study, the researchers recruited 192 families from two maternity units in the UK and filmed the mothers and fathers individually as they played with their child at three months old. When the child reached 12 months, the parents filled in questionnaires designed to assess child behaviour.
"We found that children whose fathers were more engaged in the interactions had better outcomes, with fewer subsequent behavioural problems," said Dr Paul Ramchandani, who led the study.
Boys behaviour also appeared to be more affected than girls, Dr Ramchandani said.
"Children tended to have greater behavioural problems when their fathers were more remote and lost in their own thoughts or when their fathers interacted less with them.
"This association tended to be stronger for boys than for girls, suggesting that perhaps boys are more susceptible to the influence of their father from a very early age."
Fathers who don't interact with their children may be an indication of a wider problem in the family as a whole, the researchers said. If they are in a troubled relationship with their partners, they may find it more difficult to interact with the baby, they suggested.
Dr Ramchandani said: "Focusing on the infant's first few months is important as this is a crucial period for development and the infant is very susceptible to environmental influences, such as the quality of parental care and interaction.
"As every parent knows, raising a child is not an easy task. Our research adds to a growing body of evidence that suggests that intervening early to help parents can make a positive impact on how their infant develops."