Parental depressive symptoms, children’s emotional and behavioural problems, and parents’ expressed emotion—Critical and positive comments
This longitudinal study examined whether mothers’ and fathers’ depressive symptoms predict, independently and interactively, children’s emotional and behavioural problems. It also examined bi-directional associations between parents’ expressed emotion constituents (parents’ child-directed positive and critical comments) and children’s emotional and behavioural problems. At time 1, the sample consisted of 160 families in which 50 mothers and 40 fathers had depression according to the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV. Children’s mean age at Time 1 was 3.9 years (SD = 0.8). Families (n = 106) were followed up approximately 16 months later (Time 2). Expressed emotion constituents were assessed using the Preschool Five Minute Speech Sample. In total, 144 mothers and 158 fathers at Time 1 and 93 mothers and 105 fathers at Time 2 provided speech samples. Fathers’ depressive symptoms were concurrently associated with more child emotional problems when mothers had higher levels of depressive symptoms. When controlling for important confounders (children’s gender, baseline problems, mothers’ depressive symptoms and parents’ education and age), fathers’ depressive symptoms independently predicted higher levels of emotional and behavioural problems in their children over time. There was limited evidence for a bi-directional relationship between fathers’ positive comments and change in children’s behavioural problems over time. Unexpectedly, there were no bi-directional associations between parents’ critical comments and children’s outcomes. We conclude that the study provides evidence to support a whole family approach to prevention and intervention strategies for children’s mental health and parental depression.