Maternal Depression Does Not Predict Child Behavior Problems

However, behavioral problems in children, including children with autism, predict maternal depression

THURSDAY, Sept. 1, 2022 (HealthDay News) — Maternal symptoms of depression do not predict increases in children’s behavior problems, even for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to a study published online Aug. 26 in Family Process.

Danielle Roubinov, Ph.D., from the University of California in San Francisco, and colleagues examined parenting stress and child diagnosis of ASD as moderators of bidirectional associations between maternal depression and child behavior problems. Analysis included 86 mother-child dyads, including 41 mothers of children with ASD and 45 mothers of neurotypical children who reported maternal depressive symptoms, child behavior problems, and parenting stress at three time points over the course of 18 months.

The researchers found that when controlling for lagged maternal depressive symptoms, child behavior problems were associated with greater subsequent maternal depression at the between-person but not at the within-person level. There was not a significant relationship observed between prior maternal depressive symptoms and subsequent child behavior problems. Bidirectional associations between maternal depressive symptoms and children’s behavior problems were not moderated by either parenting stress or child ASD diagnosis. Regardless of parenting stress levels or child’s ASD diagnosis, child behavior predicted maternal depression, but the converse was not true.

“The finding that maternal depression does not lead to worsened child symptoms is especially important for mothers of children with ASD to help alleviate guilt many mothers feel about their children’s diagnosis and behavior problems,” Roubinov said in a statement. “We hope these findings will reassure mothers that it’s both common to struggle with some depression in this high-stress situation of chronic caregiving, and that their depression likely isn’t making their child’s behavioral issues worse.”

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