Parental Depression and Anxiety and Early Childhood Behavior Problems Across Family Types

Published In: Journal of Marriage and Family, v. 69, no. 5, Dec. 2007, p. 1162-1177

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2007

by Sarah O. Meadows, Sara S. McLanahan

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Using the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, we examine the association between parental major depressive and generalized anxiety disorders and child behavior problems across family types: married, cohabiting, involved nonresident father, and noninvolved nonresident father. Among 3-year-olds in all families, maternal anxiety/depression is associated with increased odds of anxious/depressed, attention deficit, and oppositional defiant disorders (N = 2,120). Paternal anxiety/depression has no significant association with these problem behaviors; father's illness, however, exacerbates anxious/depressed behaviors in young children if both parents are ill and he is coresident. The findings underscore the importance of maternal mental health for child well-being and suggest that a negative interaction between parent illnesses is most likely when parents and children share the same disorder.

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