How Depressed Fathers Effect Their Children

A recent Michigan-based study examined the association between fathers’ depression and their parenting behaviors. Positive parenting behavior included playing games with children, singing rhymes and reading stories. Negative behavior included beating the children. They also evaluated how often normal and depressed fathers visited their child’s doctor. According to the results almost 7 percent of participants were suffering from depression. “These studies suggest a concerning pattern of negative parenting behavior in depressed fathers with young children.” The research showed that an average of 82 percent of fathers checked in with their child’s doctor, but this percentage reduced to about 77 percent in depressed fathers.

It is estimated that almost one in five children in the U.S. lives with an adult suffering from major depression. Many studies were conducted in the past to know the effect of the mother’s depression on children’s behavior. It was observed from the 2002 National Comorbidity Replication Survey that 4.3 percent of fathers with a child below 18 years old suffer from major depression. The aim of this study was to examine the cause and effect relationship between depression in the father and the upbringing of their children. Researchers measured depression in 2,458 fathers with one child under the age of 1 year and compared parenting behaviors between normal and depressed fathers.

* The study included data from 20 large cities. To begin with, 2,726 fathers were registered during the time of the birth of their respective children. After one year, interviews of 2,458 participants were conducted. Data collected from only 1,746 fathers who were staying with their 1-year-old children most of the time qualified to be included in the analysis,
* To assess depression in participants the WHO Composite International Diagnostic Interview questionnaire was used.
* Both positive (playing games with children, singing rhymes and reading stories) and negative (corporal punishment) parenting behavior was placed under the assessment.
* Participants’ interaction with the child’s doctor was also recorded.

* Almost 7 percent of participants of this study were suffering from major depression.
* There was no difference between both the groups as far as playing games (95 percent) and singing songs (75 percent) was concerned. Fifty-eight percent of normal fathers and 41 percent in the depression group read stories to their children.
* There was a frequent occurrence of negative parenting behaviors in depressed fathers. Forty-one percent of fathers with depression reported spanking their child while the same was true of only 13 percent of normal participants.
* Notably, 82 percent of all fathers and 77 percent of depressed fathers reported that they had spoken to their children’s doctors in the previous year.

Shortcomings/Next steps
There are many different factors including the difficult temperament of the child that need to be considered. This leads to negative parenting behavior and this factor can be the cause of depression in fathers. All the data in the present study was self reported, and no objective assessment of parenting behavior was performed. Additionally, a medically accurate diagnosis of depression was necessary from a trained clinician but this was not done in the present study.

Negative parenting is one of the major reasons for poor psychosocial performance of children. This study has highlighted the association between fathers’ depression and negative parenting behavior. To improve the behavior of children, the psychological status of their parents needs to be addressed. Many of the earlier studies have shown that positive parenting behavior increases the feeling of security and language development in children, while corporal punishment leads to aggressive behavior in children. It thus becomes essential for every pediatrician to identify the state of depression in fathers at the earliest. Suspected cases of depressed fathers or parents have to be referred to psychiatrists for proper treatment. This will help immensely in improving overall behavior of children in the community.

For More Information:
Father’s Depression Related to Positive and Negative Parenting Behaviors with 1-Year-Old Children
Publication Journal: Pediatrics, March 2011
By Neal Davis; Matthew Davisa; University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.