Supportive fathers lessen the effects of mothers' alcohol problems on children's externalizing behaviors

Lorraine M. McKelvey, Nicola A. Burrow, Glenn R. Mesman, Joy L. Pemberton, Robert Bradley, Hiram E. Fitzgerald

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Children of alcoholics are at risk for a wide range of negative social-emotional outcomes, including externalizing behaviors. These negative outcomes are evident as early as infancy and early childhood. The current study examined whether fathers' supportiveness can protect children from the negative effects of maternal alcohol problems on children's externalizing behavior. We used data from 514 families eligible for Early Head Start at enrollment and near the child's age 5. Mothers' symptoms of alcohol problems were associated with more externalizing problems in their young children. Likewise, father supportiveness in play was associated with fewer externalizing problems. Aggression and hyperactivity, externalizing behaviors commonly associated with maternal alcohol problems, were lessened when children's fathers were sensitive and supportive in play. Our findings highlight the importance of engaging fathers when mothers are identified as having an alcohol problem.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)189-200
Number of pages12
JournalFamily Science
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Jul 2012


  • fathers
  • parent-child interactions
  • substance use

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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