Much has been written about how maternal stress during pregnancy and postpartum can influence the development, emotional health and behavior of children. But little is said about the influence that the stress of the father or the couple can also have.
Now, recent research has linked father stress during the perinatal period to increased emotional and behavioral problems in their children by the age of two .
These results show that the emotional state of parents during the first months of their babies’ lives carries more weight than previously thought, so it is doubly important that they seek support to manage their stress levels and thus help prevent future difficulties in their children.
How parental stress affects children’s behavior at the age of two
The research has been carried out by the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London, together with the Finnish Institute of Health and Welfare, the University of Helsinki and the University of Tampere in Finland.
The recorded data were taken from a Finnish birth cohort including 901 fathers and 939 mothers who were asked to complete a series of questionnaires on stress, anxiety and depression during pregnancy (at 32 weeks’ gestation) and three puerperal stages (at three, eight and 24 months). Stress levels were rated on a 20-point scale, and those with a score greater than 10 were considered to experience “high” levels of stress. The analysis also included a final survey at 24 months with questions about the emotional and behavioral problems that their children presented at that age.
The data collected showed that around 7% of the parents experienced high stress throughout the puerperium, a percentage that increased to 10% two years after the children’s life.
An important novelty is also highlighted , and that is that even taking into account other factors such as the stress, anxiety and depression of the mother, the stress of the father or partner is decisive.
On the other hand, the data collected reveals that far from decreasing, parental stress increases at 24 months , possibly due to problems with conciliation, lack of sleep and the behavior of children at that age known colloquially as the “terrible two years”, due to the emotional intensity manifested by children in the process of developing their identity.
The importance of team building
Although we had always heard of maternal stress as one of the factors that most influenced the development of children, these findings show that the well-being and emotional health of the couple also matters , and a lot.
Fortunately, more and more parents are involved in raising their children; parents who are committed to co-responsibility and who do not want to be mere spectators, caregivers or “babysitters” of their children.
But parenting can be exhausting , and while most mothers understand the importance of self-care and seeking professional help when needed (something that society is also increasingly aware of), the same is not true for mothers. the case of parents.
According to the researchers, men are often more reluctant to express their needs and seek help . In addition, perinatal care programs are especially aimed at mothers, excluding the father figure.
That is why it is essential for parents to understand that their mental health also matters, and that sometimes it may be necessary to go to a professional – or even act from the time of pregnancy, as a preventive measure. With this, they would not only contribute to improving their physical and emotional well-being, but also to prevent behavioral problems in their children.