August 13th, 2010
05:24 PM ET

Good relationship with dad can help fight stress

Do you remember playing games with your dad or having heart-to-heart talks? For men, many years later, that turns out to be important. The relationship you had with your father, and the way that you treat your sons, may be more influential than you think.

A new study presented at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association reveals that men who had positive relationships with their fathers are better equipped to deal with the stress of everyday life than men who did not remember their dads fondly.

"A big take-home message is that if there is a father present in a child’s life, he needs to know how important it is to be involved," said Melanie Mallers of California State University, Fullerton.

Researchers interviewed 912 men and women during an eight-day period about their psychological and emotional state that day. Participants also had to answer questions about their relationships with their mothers and fathers growing up, and how much attention their parents gave them.

The major finding of the study is that men who said they had bad relationships with their fathers in childhood were more likely to be distressed by the stressful incidents of daily life.

Study authors did not see this effect as commonly in women. Mallers thinks that's because women are engaging in other kinds of coping skills, relying on a network of other people besides their parents for support. Men, on the other hand, learn instrumental coping skills from their fathers, she said.

"For dads who grew up without a dad, this is an opportunity to repair damage," she said.

Overall, participants said that their relationship with their mother in childhood was better than with their father, Mallers said. More men reported a good mother-child relationship than women, study authors found.

Participants who had a good relationships with both parents in childhood tended to have fewer stressful incidents in their lives over the eight-day period than those who had poor parental relationships.

The study also emphasizes the importance of male figures in a boy's life, even if a father isn't available, she said. Positive mentors in a child's life can make a real difference, she said.

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