The role of the father in child sleep disturbance: child, parent, and parent-child relationship

Infant Ment Health J. Jan-Feb 2015;36(1):114-27. doi: 10.1002/imhj.21491. Epub 2014 Dec 12.


The majority of studies on child sleep problems focus primarily on mothers, neglecting paternal influences. Guided by the transactional framework, we explored how child temperament, paternal and maternal stress, and the parent-child interactions differ between families having children with sleep disturbances and a selected comparison group. The role of paternal involvement in child caregiving as a moderator of these differences was assessed. The sample consisted of 51 children (1-3 years old) and their mothers and fathers. Data were collected during home visits, when mothers and fathers completed questionnaires and were interviewed. In addition, mother-child and father-child interactions were videotaped. Results indicate that compared to the comparison group, fathers rated children with sleep disturbances as fussier, both their mothers and fathers experienced higher levels of stress, and reported using more bedtime interactions that interfere with child's sleep-wake self-regulation. In addition, their fathers were less sensitive during father-child interaction and less involved in child caregiving. Finally, paternal involvement moderated the group differences seen in maternal stress, suggesting that high paternal involvement acted as a buffer to protect parents of children with sleep disturbances from experiencing parental stress. The important role of fathers in families having children with sleep disturbances is discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child, Preschool
  • Father-Child Relations*
  • Fathers* / psychology
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Models, Psychological
  • Mother-Child Relations
  • Mothers / psychology
  • Paternal Behavior
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / psychology*
  • Stress, Psychological