Young girls who have a close relationship with their father are less likely to feel lonely, scientists say. “We found that closeness between fathers and daughters tends to protect daughters and help them transition out of loneliness faster,” said Xin Feng, associate professor at The Ohio State University in the US.
For the study published in the Journal of Family Psychology, researchers analysed data from 695 families. Mothers and fathers rated their relationships (both closeness and conflict) with their child when the child was in grades 1, 3, 4 and 5. In grades 1, 3 and 5 the children rated their levels of loneliness.
Results showed that levels of closeness tended to decline over this time period, while conflict increased. “This is a time when children are becoming more independent, developing relationships with friends and spending more time outside the home,” said Julia Yan, a doctoral student at Ohio State. “So they become less close with their parents and have more conflict as their need for autonomy increases,” said Yan.
Loneliness also tended to decrease as the kids developed relationships with their peers and felt more comfortable with their social skills. However, the study showed that kids did not shed their loneliness at the same rate. Daughters did better when they had closer relationships with their fathers. Relationship closeness did not have an effect on loneliness in boys. The study can’t show why, but Yan said it may be because parents do not socialise boys to have particularly close relationships and put less emphasis on them maintaining close ties.
Mothers’ relationships didn’t have an effect in this study, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t important, Yan said. One reason for the lack of impact among mothers in this research was that mothers nearly always had close relationships with their kids, so there was less difference to measure. Fathers’ relationships with their children, particularly their daughters, are different from relationships mothers have, researchers said. “In our society, mothers tend to be responsible for everyday care and stability for their children,” Feng said.
“Fathers have more freedom to interact with their children in different ways, to challenge them and have a wider range of emotional contact. That may be one reason why fathers had more impact on their daughters,” he said. The results affirm that fathers should nurture their relationships with their children, particularly their daughters, the researchers said.
“Pay attention to their feelings, especially when they are sad or unhappy, and help them cope. Our results suggest it can really help daughters feel less lonely over time,” said Feng.
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First Published: Aug 29, 2018 15:12 IST