Theses Doctoral

Kids Can Screw Up Their Parents, Too: An Analysis of the Reciprocal Influences Between Maternal Depressive Symptoms and Child Problem Behaviors From Child Age 2 to 15

Lewis Heinz, Alexandra

In spite of theoretical models representing a bidirectional pattern of influence between children and mothers (Sameroff & MacKenzie, 2003), few comprehensive longitudinal studies have examined how maternal psychological functioning and child behavior relate to each other over time. This study explored the transactional relationship between child problem behavior (i.e., internalizing and externalizing) and maternal depressive symptoms from toddlerhood to adolescence. The transactional dynamic was conceptualized in two ways—(a) parallel growth and (b) bidirectional effects—in terms of timing, direction, and the magnitude of effects, as well as how effects were moderated by gender and level of maternal depressive symptoms. Data were drawn from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development (N = 1,179). Using advanced statistical techniques in the structural equation modeling framework, such as multivariate latent growth curve models, latent class analyses, and fully autoregressive cross-lagged models, these findings demonstrate that in contrast to the traditional unidirectional maternal effects framework, the transactional dynamic more accurately represents the relationship between maternal and child functioning.
Specifically, results indicated that the relationship between child internalizing behavior and maternal depressive symptoms was more strongly characterized as a parallel growth dynamic, whereas child externalizing behavior and maternal depressive symptoms more consistently exerted mutual influence. Bidirectional effects were not restricted to periods of heightened psychosocial stress, such as toddlerhood, adolescence, or transitions in school. Gender and level of maternal depressive symptoms moderated this bidirectional association. Maternal depressive symptoms had the largest effect on child internalizing behavior in middle childhood. Children’s externalizing behaviors in toddlerhood and early childhood had a strong effect on maternal depressive symptoms; the magnitude of this effect was greater than any other pathway from children to mothers or mothers to children. Findings suggest that children’s externalizing and internalizing behavior may serve as a potential risk factor for future increases in maternal depressive symptoms.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Developmental Psychology
Thesis Advisors
Brooks-Gunn, Jeanne
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
December 1, 2015