Category: Parenting / Families
Offspring of depressed parents have significantly higher rates of internalizing and externalizing problems compared to offspring of non-depressed parents (Goodman et al., 2011). Parent-child interactions may confer risk for this population, as parental depression affects parents’ behaviors and emotions in interactions within the family (Dix & Meunier, 2009). Research has established links between broad types of negative parenting in depressed parents and child psychopathology (e.g., McKee et al., 2008); however, no studies to date have examined communication in the context of depression at the micro-level to evaluate the occurrence and frequency of specific responses over the course of an interaction. The goal of the current study is to examine micro-level differences in the association between parental communication and internalizing and externalizing problems for depressed and non-depressed mothers and their children.
The sample included 43 mothers with a history of major depressive disorder (MDD), 45 with no MDD history, and their children ages 10-15. Parents’ current depressive symptoms were assessed using diagnostic interviews (SCID; First et al., 2001), child internalizing and externalizing problems were assessed via questionnaire (YSR; Achenbach & Rescorla, 2001). Direct observations of parent–child interactions were transcribed and divided into utterances for micro-level coding using a contingency coding system to a quantify the two maternal utterances immediately following a child’s utterance.
For children of never-depressed mothers, reframes (parent corrects/disagrees with the child) were significantly related to child internalizing (r = .41) and externalizing (r = .38) problems (ps < .01). For children of mothers with a history of MDD, maintaining the same topic (M) and providing information to the child (POI) were significantly related to lower child internalizing (M: r = -.50, POI: r = -.41) and externalizing (M: r = -.39, POI: r = -.36) problems, (ps < .01). Additionally, expansions by parents with a history of MDD (parent repeats and adds additional content to child’s utterance) were significantly related to higher levels of internalizing problems (r = .42), while imperatives (parent directs the child to do something) were significantly related to higher levels of externalizing problems (r = .35; ps < .05).
The present study represents the first micro-level analysis of maternal communication in parents with and without a history of MDD. The results suggest that maternal communication may differentially impact child internalizing and externalizing problems depending on whether the mother has experienced prior episodes of depression. These findings provide important targets for improving communication in preventive interventions.
Meredith Gruhn– Student, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee
Michelle Reising– Vanderbilt University
Jennifer Dunbar– Vanderbilt University
Kelly H. Watson– Vanderbilt University
Alexandra Bettis– Graduate Student, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee
Bruce Compas– Patricia and Rodes Hart Professor of Psychology and Human Development, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee