Low-Income African American Fathers' Contributions to Toddlers' Social and Emotional Development

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2007-11-26

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Growing interest in low-income, minority fathers' involvement and concern over their children's social and emotional development highlights the need for empirical investigation into the predictors of low-income fathers' involvement and its influence on young children's social and emotional development. Using data from a study of low-income, African American fathers of toddlers enrolled in Early Head Start, the present research examined associations among fathers' family contexts, the quality of father-child interactions, and children's social competence and problem behavior. Guided by the Dynamics Model of paternal influences on children (Cabrera et al., in press a), the present research addressed the following questions: (a) how are fathers' family contexts associated with children's social and emotional development, (b) how are fathers' family contexts associated with the quality of father-child interactions, (c) how is the quality of father-child interactions uniquely associated with children's social and emotional development, and (d) to what extent does the quality of father-child interactions mediate associations between fathers' family contexts and children's social and emotional development?

Results of multiple regressions suggest that low-income, African American fathers who parent in the context of more harmonious partner and extended family relationships have children with greater social competence and less problem behavior than fathers who have less amicable partner and extended family relationships. Furthermore, fathers who act negatively and are over-controlling toward their toddlers have children who exhibit less social competence than fathers who display fewer negative behaviors. These findings highlight the importance of supporting fathers' relationships with their partners and extended family members and of encouraging fathers to be less negative and over-controlling when interacting with their toddlers in order to promote impoverished children's healthy social and emotional development.

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