Chapter 6: How Are Father-Child Relationships Associated With Other Aspects Of Children's Socio-Emotional Wellbeing?
This section explores whether the father-child relationship is associated with other aspects of the ten-year old child's socio-emotional wellbeing. These aspects include measures of overall wellbeing, as well as wellbeing in important domains of the child's life outside the home (school and peers).
6.1 Key findings from multivariable models
- Supportive father-child relationships are associated with several other aspects of ten year-olds' socio-emotional wellbeing
- Supportive father-child relationships are equally important for boys and girls
- Father- and mother-child relationships matter equally for children's wellbeing
6.2 Measuring socio-emotional wellbeing at age 10
Six indicators of socio-emotional wellbeing were used: high total difficulties score (abnormal/borderline behavioural and emotional problems), poor school adjustment, low life satisfaction, low emotional engagement with school (disliking school), poor relationship with school teacher and high victimisation by other children. Children's behavioural and emotional problems and poor school adjustment were reported by parents (usually the mother). All other indicators of wellbeing were gathered from children themselves at the age 10 interview using an audio computer-assisted self-completion questionnaire.
6.2.1 High total difficulties score
Behavioural and emotional difficulties were assessed using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire ( SDQ) (for details, see section 5.4.2). In the analysis sample, 10% of children were classified as having a high total difficulties score.
6.2.2 Poor school adjustment
Parents were asked whether the child's school had contacted them in the previous two years regarding one or more specific issues, listed on a showcard at the home interview. These were: (1) the behaviour of other pupils towards your child; (2) his/her behaviour at school; (3) his/her attendance at school; (4) his/her attitude towards school/schoolwork. An affirmative response to one or more of issues 1, 2 and 4 was taken to indicate poor school adjustment. In the analysis sample, 12% of child were classified as having poor school adjustment. Among these, just under a third had a high total difficulties score.
6.2.3 Low Life Satisfaction
Life satisfaction was based on the child's responses to six questions previously used on eleven year-olds in the UK Millennium Cohort Study, asking about different parts of their lives, and life overall: "How do you feel about … your life?, your school work?, the way you look?, your family?, your friends?, the school you go to?". Responses were on a 4-point scale: (1) very happy (2) quite happy (3) not happy (4) not at all happy. Items loaded on to a single underlying factor, and had good internal reliability, Cronbach alpha=0.69. A sum of responses to all items was banded into tertiles, with scores in the highest tertile defined as "low" life satisfaction.
6.2.4 Disliking school
School emotional engagement, or the extent to which the child liked school, was measured using five items: agreement with four statements, "I hate school" (reversed), "I enjoy learning at school", "I look forward to going to school", "I feel happy at school" (responses (1) never (2) sometimes (3) often (4) always; and responses to a question "How often do you find school interesting?"(originally coded as (1) all of the time (2) most of the time (3) some of the time (4) hardly ever, but reversed). Items loaded on to a single factor, and had good internal reliability with Cronbach alpha=0.80. Mean scores were divided into tertiles and the lowest tertile was defined as "disliking school".
6.2.5 Poor teacher relations
The child's relationship with his or her school teacher was based on agreement with four items: "My teacher treats me fairly", "My teacher helps me when I need help", "My teacher pays attention to what I say", "I get along well with my teacher". Responses were on a four- point scale: (1) never (2) sometimes (3) often (4) always. Items loaded on to one underlying factor and had good internal reliability, Cronbach alpha=0.76. Mean scores were divided into tertiles, and the lowest tertile was defined as "poor" teacher relations.
6.2.6 Peer victimisation
Victimisation was assessed using four items asking "how often do other children pick on you by …. calling you names or making fun of you in a way that you don't like?, leaving you out of games and chats?, shoving, pushing, hitting or picking a fight with you? sending you an email or text message that you don't like?" Responses were on a 5-point scale: (1) Most days (2) about once a week (3) about once a month (4) every few months (5) never. Items loaded on to one underlying factor and had good internal reliability, Cronbach alpha=0.75. Mean scores were divided into tertiles, and the lowest tertile was defined as "high" peer victimisation.
6.3 How is the father-child relationship associated with other aspects of child socio-emotional wellbeing?
The extent to which children perceived the relationship with their father as supportive is associated with all other aspects of wellbeing at the same age. Compared to children with good or excellent father-child relationships, those with poor relationships are most likely to have high levels of behavioural and emotional problems (high total difficulties score), and most likely to have poor school adjustment (see Figure 6-A). With these parent-reported measures of child wellbeing we do not see clear differences according to whether the child's relationship with the father was classed as good or excellent.
Figure 6-A Associations between father-child relationship quality and parent- reported child socio-emotional wellbeing
Note: Base sample=2593 (unweighted). Both associations between father-child relationship and outcomes are statistically significant, p<0.001.
Children who had a poor relationship with their father are also the most likely to report disliking school, a poor relationship with their teacher, high levels of victimisation from peers and low life satisfaction (Figure 6-B). For these child-reported measures of socio-emotional wellbeing, children perceiving an excellent relationship with their father are even more positive about other aspects of their lives than those with a good father-child relationship.
All associations between father-child relationship and wellbeing outcomes are similar for boys and girls.
Figure 6-B Associations between father-child relationship quality and parent- reported child socio-emotional wellbeing
Note: Base sample=2593 (unweighted). All associations between father-child relationship and outcomes are statistically significant, p<0.001.
6.4 Multivariable models of associations between father-child relationship and other aspects of child socio-emotional wellbeing
Thus far, simple associations between father-child relationships and wellbeing have been considered. This section considers whether father-child relationships remain associated with wellbeing after allowing for potentially important confounders including child gender, socio- demographic factors, and the quality of the mother-child relationship.
As before, supportiveness in father-child relationships is banded into three groups: poor, good and excellent. We use children with good father-child relationships as a reference group. Multivariable models found that children with poor father-child relationships have lower child wellbeing than the reference group of children over a range of outcomes, after allowing for other factors including family disadvantage. Children with a poor father-child relationship are more likely to have high (abnormal/borderline) levels of behavioural and emotional problems and poor school adjustment, as reported by parents. They are also more likely to report low emotional engagement with school, a poor relationship with their teacher, high peer victimisation and low life satisfaction.
Children who have an excellent father-child relationship are found to have even better outcomes than the reference group with good father-child relationships, for three of the four measures of child-reported wellbeing: school emotional engagement, victimisation and life satisfaction.
The models show that father-child relationships are associated with wellbeing, even after taking account of the mother-child relationship. A poor mother-child relationship is also associated with lower wellbeing, with two exceptions (high levels of emotional and behavioural difficulties, and poor school adjustment). As for the father-child relationship, an excellent mother-child relationship is associated with reduced risk of three out of four child- reported wellbeing outcomes.
Although lower wellbeing is more common among boys than girls, further investigation suggested no differences between boys and girls in the importance of father- and mother- child relationships for their wellbeing.
Email: Wendy van der Neut