Depressive symptoms in mothers appear to affect children’s social-emotional development, in part through parenting practices


A new study adds to a body of research on how parental personality and mental health influence children’s social-emotional and cognitive-motor development. The results, published in the journal Infant behavior and developmentsuggest that parenting practices play a mediating role in the equation.

Psychology studies continue to find evidence that a parent’s personality and psychopathology impact the development of their children. According to a well-known parenting model described by Jay Belsky in 1984, parents’ characteristics partly dictate their parenting styles. For example, mothers with high neuroticism have been found to use less parental support.

Expanding on these ideas, study author Alejandro Vásquez-Echeverría and his team proposed that a mother’s characteristics – such as depression and personality traits – likely influence children’s development through parenting practices. the mother. Importantly, although all of these variables are interrelated, most studies have examined them separately. Vásquez-Echeverría and colleagues sought to explore how these different parenting processes interact, using cross-sectional data from a nationally representative Latin American sample.

“The most traditional and widely used models of parenting and their consequences for child development include a range of predictors such as, for example, the mental health and personality traits of the caregiver as well as the socio-economic position household economics,” explained Vásquez-Echeverría, full professor at the University of the Republic in Montevideo, Uruguay.

“However, few studies have simultaneously analyzed all these variables in their relation to parenting practices and the socio-emotional and cognitive development of the child. This is important because, in general, all of these factors have important interrelationships. Understanding how these factors work together to shape child development can be useful to improve the design of public policies or to inform the work of professionals who aim to promote child development or positive parenting.

The researchers analyzed data from an early childhood survey of Uruguayan families, called the Nutrition, Child Development and Health Survey (ENDIS). The researchers focused on data reported by mothers, with a final sample of 4,693 children (aged 0 months to 6 years) and their mothers. In addition to demographic measures such as household income, mothers completed measures of depressive symptoms and Big Five personality traits – extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and openness to experience.

The mothers also completed assessments of their child’s behavior, with items designed to assess cognitive-motor development and social-emotional development. An investigator also conducted observation of the child in his or her home environment, which included ratings of caregiver aggression/hostility toward the child and warmth/affection toward the child.

The results revealed that the mothers’ personality traits were linked to children’s developmental outcomes. Mothers who scored lower in neuroticism and higher in extraversion, agreeableness, openness to experience, and conscientiousness tended to have children with better cognitive-motor development and fewer behavioral problems. Mothers who were older, reported higher family income, had fewer depressive symptoms, and practiced positive parenting also tended to have children with better cognitive-motor and socio-emotional development.

The researchers then applied trajectory analyzes to further explore the relationships between these variables. This revealed that socio-emotional development was directly related to mothers’ parenting practices and depressive symptomatology. In addition, parenting practices and maternal depression partly explained the relationship between household income and children’s socio-emotional development. In general, maternal depression seemed to be more strongly associated with children’s social-emotional development than with personality.

In addition, parenting practices partially explained the relationship between mothers’ depressive symptoms and children’s socio-emotional problems. The authors say this is in line with research suggesting that depressed mothers tend to be less emotionally reactive. A lack of responsiveness can produce an unfavorable and less stimulating environment for the child, impairing his social-emotional progress.

Parenting practices were also directly associated with children’s cognitive-motor development. Mothers’ openness and household income were indirectly related to child development through parenting practices. According to the authors of the study, these results attest to the crucial role of positive parenting in the cognitive-motor development of children.

“The effects of distal variables (eg, personality, socioeconomic status) on child development were largely explained by the intermediate variables, including parenting practices,” Vásquez-Echeverría told PsyPost. “In other words, we found associations between higher levels of depressive symptoms, lower household socioeconomic status and lower openness on the one hand, and mothers with less warm and Overall, our study helps to better nuance the respective roles of the main antecedents of parenting practices and their influence on children’s outcomes.

Vásquez-Echeverría and his team acknowledge that causality cannot be established since their study relied on cross-sectional data. Future longitudinal studies may shed more light on the directional relationship of the variables. Still, they say their findings can help inform interventions for young children and their mothers.

The study, “Role of parenting practices, maternal personality and depressive symptoms in early childhood developmentwas written by Alejandro Vásquez-Echeverría, Lucía Alvarez-Nuñez, Meliza Gonzalez, Tianna Loose and Fanny Rudnitzky.


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