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Wednesday, 7 November, 2001, 12:43 GMT
Fathers urged to bath baby
New-born baby girl in bath - generic
Babies release hormones when bathed which give long-term benefits
Babies who miss out on regular baths by their father are more likely to grow up with social problems, a survey has revealed.

The study by a London-based psychologist says those who miss out are three times more likely to experience behavioural problems.

The findings are part of a 14-year study by psychologist Dr Howard Steele, of the University of Central London

His report reveals problems in teenagers can be traced back to a lack of quality time with their fathers in the early months of life.


Dads, or father figures, have a particularly powerful influence on their child's social competence

Dr Howard Steele

The study, thought to be the first of its kind, found 30% of boys and girls who were not bathed regularly by their father were prone to "significant friendship problems" when they grew up.

This compares with 3% who were bathed three to four times a week who went on to suffer problems.

Dr Steele says one reason for the long-term effects of bathing is hormones called oxytocins, which are released into the body when touch and warm temperatures are combined.

Prime Minister Tony Blair and his son Leo
Fathers have a powerful influence

"Dads, or father figures, have a particularly powerful influence on their child's social competence development and so they need to know how important things like bath time are for their baby," said Dr Steele.

"The function of the father is to introduce the child to the social world beyond the mother, through assuming some of the early caregiving duties and increasingly via playful and joyful stimulation of the child's interest.

"Bath time is an obvious place for this stimulation in dad's busy life."

Dr Steele and his wife, fellow psychologist Dr Miriam Steele, studied the offspring of 100 parents who had a child 14 years ago.

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They assessed their progress during pregnancy, at one year, 18 months, five years, six years and, the latest, at 11 years, when the children were asked a series of questions.

A greater number of those who were not bathed regularly by their father said they did not have a good friend or did not believe people generally liked them.

Loneliness

Existing information suggests only 60% of fathers spend the minimum amount of time bathing their baby.

Tips for fathers
Don't be afraid to hold the baby
Use bath time to hold and support the baby
Make eye contact, smile and talk to child
Ensure bath is luke warm by adult standards
Sit and talk to older children at bath time
Make bath time with child at least once a week
Jack O'Sullivan, from Fathers Direct, the national information centre for fatherhood, said: "Bathing of babies is an indicator for a father's involvement with his children."

He said the study supported existing research which shows that, where fathers are actively involved, their children become more socially competent, are more successful at examinations at 16 and less likely to have a criminal record by the age of 21."

Dr Steele warns fathers who fail to take up opportunities for bath time, could see their children face handicaps relating to others and be more prone to loneliness and other social and mental health difficulties.

His research has been part-funded by the utilities company Powergen.

See also:

02 Sep 01 | Education
Parents bank on baby savings scheme
23 Nov 00 | Health
Parents overlook cot death risk
27 Apr 01 | UK Politics
Blair banks on baby savings scheme
18 May 00 | Health
Diary of a new mother
26 Apr 01 | Business
The value of baby's bonus
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