Depressed Dads Spank Kids More Often, Study Shows

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depressed dads

A new study finds 7 percent of dads of 1-year-olds are depressed. Credit: Getty

With so much focus on maternal post-partum depression, it's easy to overlook the mental health of fathers, but a new study shows depressed dads also are less likely to engage in healthy parenting behavior.

Researchers from the University of Michigan looked at more than 1,700 fathers of 1-year-olds and found 7 percent of them were depressed. These men were nearly four times more likely to report spanking their child in the previous month than their non-depressed counterparts, according to an article in Pediatrics.

"Irritability and anger, common symptoms of depression, may be implicated in the increased likelihood of depressed fathers spanking their 1-year-old children," the authors write, adding that spanking has been associated with increased aggressive behavior in children.

Depressed fathers were less than half as likely to read to their child on a regular basis than non-depressed dads, but both groups said they sang to, talked to and played games with their child more than three times in a typical week, the report says.

Interactive play helps foster secure attachment in children, according to the study, and talking and other speech interactions help with language development.

Additionally, the study says, paternal depression has been shown to hurt speech development.

"By reducing positive interactions and amplifying negative interactions, paternal depression may be adversely impacting children's health and development as well as father-child relationship formation early in children's lives," the authors write.

The researchers noted that 77 percent of the depressed fathers had spoken to their child's pediatrician in the previous year, adding that well-child visits may provide a good opportunity for doctors to discuss healthy parenting and to refer depressed fathers for treatment.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.