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Effects Of Parental Depression On The Toddler

A study conducted at Northwestern University has provided evidence that both a mothers’ and a fathers’ depression can have equally damaging effects upon the toddler.


The study focused on 200 couples with a three-year-old child. Each member of each couple had their level of depression assessed (each had also had their level of depression assessed shortly after the now three-year-old was born in a preliminary part of the study).

Each member of each couple was also given a questionnaire to complete about their three-year old’s internalising and externalising behaviours. These included:

Internalising behaviours:

– anxiety

– general sadness

– jitteriness/nervousness

Externalising behaviours:

– general acting out

– aggression/hitting

– lying

Results of study :

The greater the father’s level of depression had been found to be in the study the more undesirable internalised and externalised behaviours (see above) the couple’s three-year-old displayed and the more problematic these behaviours were likely to be.

The effects on the toddler were the same if it was the mother who’d suffered depression.

How does the parent’s depression harm the young child?

A parent who is depressed is likely to find it harder to bond with the infant and more difficult to engage with him/her in a positive, reassuring and nurturing way. If such problems are severe enough, the young child is at risk of going on to develop an attachment disorder.

Importance of study.

This study is of especial interest and importance as it assesses the effect of the father’s depression on the child. The majority of previous studies have focused on maternal depression and its effects upon the infant.

Implications of study

Fisher, who headed the study, in the light of the above findings, stressed the importance of ensuring new fathers, like new mothers, are screened for depression so that, if present, it can be treated thus making it less likely that the infant’s subsequent development will be adversely affected.

Other findings from the study:

The study also suggested that parental depression can do more harm to the infant/toddler than even parental conflict.


Overcome Postnatal Depression | Self Hypnosis Downloads

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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