Friday, June 29th, 2012
I’ve come across a number of new studies that have examined how consistent exposure to negative emotions can have a very strong impact on kids, particularly in terms of their risk for depression. I’m not talking about the occasional frustration that all parents have – rather I’m referring to negative interaction styles that can seem innocuous but in fact become insidious. Every parent expresses some anger, hostility, a sharp tone, or annoyance now and then – but what happens if it starts to become habit?
The short answer is that there are two things to consider.
First, it is very clear that emotions are contagious. Recent studies show that parental negativity can bring an infant down – even if the baby is not especially prone (via temperament) to negativity. Parents can start “behavior chains” early in life – if you are often cranky with your baby, chances are your baby will respond the same way. Studies with older kids have confirmed (for a long time now) that negativity in the home leads to early emerging symptoms of depression in the school years (not full blown depressive episodes, but the first signs of depressed mood). Of course, the opposite is true – for example, when parents are treated successfully for depression, their kids shown rapid improvements with respect to their own depressive symptoms.
Second – and this is the big piece for me – new research is suggesting that this cumulative exposure to parental negativity can lead kids to develop the cognitive risks for later, full blown, depressive episodes. Researchers typically assess what they call “attributional style” – sort of how kids see themselves and the world. It’s very clear that certain attributional styles (think kids with low self-image and a lot of defeatist attitude) are a strong risk factor for later depression. What’s emerging is the idea that the chain goes like this: parental negativity -> child negativity -> negative attributional style -> later depression. In particular, the middle childhood years – and the entry into adolescence – are key developmental periods when attributional style comes together. So the thinking is that kids’ developmental history of emotional experiences in the home help shape their emerging attributional style.
I bring all this up because, to my mind, it’s become somewhat fashionable to talk about the downside of parenting. Much of this is healthy venting – sure, parenting is stressful, it changes your life, there are lots of not great moments that occur, and sometimes it can be overwhelming. But the thing is, if negativity starts to become the overriding experience of being a parent – and if kids get exposed to habitual (rather than occasional) negativity – their chances of becoming depressed later in life go way up.
So I have two take-home messages:
If you think you may be depressed, seeking out treatment (behavioral, pharmaceutical, a combination) could have a very positive impact on your life. Treatment works – and when it works, it helps kids too.
If you find yourself slipping into negative interaction styles with your kids, take the lead and change the emotional climate. Keep in mind that positivity – like negativity – can be contagious!
Be Positive Not Negative via Shutterstock.com
Categories: Behavior, Health, Intervention, Must Read, Parenting, Red-Hot Parenting, Relationships | Tags: childhood depression, Health, infants, maternal depression, negativity, parental negativity, treatment for depression
Tuesday, December 27th, 2011
My prior two posts have discussed depression in moms, focusing on why it’s so common and who’s at highest risk, and how to recognize the signs of depression. While you should – if necessary – seek out treatment simply for your own health and well-being, as a mom you also want to know how depression affects your kids – and how getting treated may help them as well as you.
I’ve done a number of blog posts on maternal depression over the last six months, including summaries of recent studies that showed how maternal depression affects kids from infancy onward and that part of the risk is due directly to the rearing environment (rather than via genetic mechanisms). I’ve also discussed a key paper by Dr. Judy Garber and colleagues (selected by me as one of the most influential studies of 2011) that provided unparalleled insight into the tight associations between parent and child depression and how successful treatment of parental depression can have immediate positive effects on their kids. Here I’ll discuss a bit more about what might change with successful treatment (please note that I plan future posts on dads and depression).
All of the things that happen when a mom get depressed – increasing sadness, irritability, sleep problems, guilt, hopelessness, indecisiveness – can severely undermine the ability to parent. You can become less patient, less accepting, more angry, and more critical. Please keep in mind that this is not a case of loving a child less or not wanting to be the best parent you can be. It’s the consequence of having a real disorder with significant biological symptoms that can substantially impair your functioning.
That said, one of the important things that changes with successful treatment – as described in the Garber paper – is that parental acceptance increases as depression symptoms go away. Moms become more affectionate, supportive, and caring as the cloud of depression lifts. And these changes were shown to be the primary mechanism that lead to immediate reductions in kids’ depressive symptoms (as well as improvements in their social behavior and academic performance).
So the bottom line is that understanding your risk for depression and being vigilant about the symptoms of depression can help you understand when you might need to seek out treatment. Since different treatments work for different people, it’s critical to stick with the process and find what works. And since depression is a recurring condition – it unfortunately can happen again and again – you will need to maintain your vigilance even after successful treatment. But the good news is that you can find ways to manage it and you and your kids will reap the benefits of treatment.
Click here to read Part One of this series (focused on how to gauge your risk)
Click here to read Part Two of this series (focused on how to be aware of the symptoms of depression)
Image of happy mom and child via Shutterstock.com
Categories: Behavior, Health, Intervention, Must Read, Parenting, Red-Hot Parenting, Relationships | Tags: Health, kids of depressed moms, maternal depression, moms and depression, treating moms with depression, treatment for depression