Good marriage can buffer effects of dad's depression on young children

May 22, 2013

What effect does a father's depression have on his young son or daughter? When fathers report a high level of emotional intimacy in their marriage, their children benefit, said a University of Illinois study.

"When a parent is interacting with their child, they need to be able to attend to the child's , be cued in to his and abilities, and notice whether he is getting frustrated or needs help. Depressed parents have more difficulty doing that," said Nancy McElwain, a U of I professor of human development.

But if a depressed dad has a close relationship with a partner who listens to and supports him, the quality of father-child interaction improves, she noted.

"A supportive spouse appears to buffer the effects of the father's depression. We can see it in children's behavior when they're working with their dad. The kids are more persistent and engaged," said Jennifer Engle, the study's lead author.

In the study, the researchers used data from a subset of 606 children and their parents who participated in the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development.

When their child was 4½ years old, parents ranked themselves on two scales: one that assessed and another that elicited their perceptions of in their marriage. Parents were also observed interacting with their child during semi-structured tasks when the children were 4½, then 6½ years old.

"At this stage of a child's development, an engaged parent is very important. The son's or daughter's ability to focus and persist with a task when they are frustrated is critical in making a successful transition from preschool to formal schooling," Engle said.

Interestingly, depressed mothers didn't get the same boost from a supportive spouse.

That may be because men and women respond to depression differently, she added. "Men tend to withdraw; women tend to ruminate. We think that high emotional intimacy and sharing in the marriage may encourage a woman's tendency to ruminate about her depression, disrupting her ability to be available and supportive with her children."

Depressed men, on the other hand, are more likely to withdraw from their partners. "This makes emotional intimacy in the marriage an important protective factor for fathers," McElwain said.

The study emphasizes the need for depressed parents to seek support, if not from their spouses, from friends, family, and medical professionals, she added.

The article was published in Developmental Psychology and is available pre-publication online at http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/2013-14498-001/. Jennifer M. Engle, now of Sewanee, the University of the South, and Nancy L. McElwain of the University of Illinois are co-authors.

Explore further: Study: Kindergarten friendships matter, especially for boys

Related Stories

Study: Kindergarten friendships matter, especially for boys

November 29, 2011
High-quality friendships in kindergarten may mean that boys will have fewer behavior problems and better social skills in first and third grades, said Nancy McElwain, a University of Illinois associate professor of human ...

How family conflict affects children

May 8, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—New research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) reveals why some children are badly affected by negative family conflicts while other children survive without significant problems.

Kids, especially boys, perceive sadness of depressed parents

May 17, 2013
Children of depressed parents pick up on their parents' sadness—whether mom or dad realizes their mood or not.

Telling tales can be a good thing

March 27, 2013
The act of talking is not an area where ability is usually considered along gender lines. However, a new study published in Springer's journal Sex Roles has found subtle differences between the sexes in their story-relating ...

Recommended for you

Depression changes structure of the brain, study suggests

July 21, 2017
Changes in the brain's structure that could be the result of depression have been identified in a major scanning study.

Many kinds of happiness promote better health, study finds

July 21, 2017
A new study links the capacity to feel a variety of upbeat emotions to better health.

Study examines effects of stopping psychiatric medication

July 20, 2017
Despite numerous obstacles and severe withdrawal effects, long-term users of psychiatric drugs can stop taking them if they choose, and mental health care professionals could be more helpful to such individuals, according ...

Study finds gene variant increases risk for depression

July 20, 2017
A University of Central Florida study has found that a gene variant, thought to be carried by nearly 25 percent of the population, increases the odds of developing depression.

In making decisions, are you an ant or a grasshopper?

July 20, 2017
In one of Aesop's famous fables, we are introduced to the grasshopper and the ant, whose decisions about how to spend their time affect their lives and future. The jovial grasshopper has a blast all summer singing and playing, ...

Perceiving oneself as less physically active than peers is linked to a shorter lifespan

July 20, 2017
Would you say that you are physically more active, less active, or about equally active as other people your age?

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.