Does Mother’s Depression Affect Children?

Does Mother’s Depression Affect Children?

If you are depressed during the early years of your child’s life, what impact will this have on your child?

For example, suppose you suffered from postpartum depression right after giving birth to your child, what effect would this have on your child’s development? Or, if you have bouts of depression while your child is in her formative years, will there be long-range consequences for your child?

These are important questions because depression is such a prevalent condition for adults in this country. According to the National Institute of Mental Health nearly 10 percent of all adults in the U.S. experience a mood disorder, and almost seven percent of adults suffer from serious depression.

Furthermore, four out of five women will experience a mild depression, often referred to as the “baby blues.” However, somewhere between 10 and 17 percent of all mothers will have the more serious postpartum depression, which could lead to a mood disorder that might last months – or even years.

Given these statistics, the question of how a parent’s depression will impact a child’s future is an important one. Studies dating back over the past thirty years show remarkably clear and consistent results: Children who live with a chronically depressed mother are at risk for many adverse effects. While it is likely that similar results would be shown if men and their depression was studied more, the fact is that men have been the subjects of fewer research studies related to parental depression and the outcomes for children.

However, it is clear that if mothers fail to receive treatment for their depression, babies and older children will suffer consequences. The major risks infants and children face if they live with a depressed mother include higher stress levels, abnormal reflexes, withdrawal, irritability, decreased vocalization, lower activity level, attachment problems, and depressed emotional expression.

The consequences of being around a depressed mother begin to appear within the first year of life. For instance, some babies whose mothers were depressed for the first six months of their life showed growth delays by their first birthdays. But the consequences of being around a depressed parent seem to be present even years later.

A study in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry looked at longitudinal studies related to living with parents with mood disorders. This research found that by the age of 20 a child has a 40 percent higher risk of experiencing a major depression themselves. And as they are growing up, children of depressed parents have more trouble in general functioning, increased guilt, and greater problems getting along with others.

Another study, published in 2006 in the American Journal of Psychiatry reported on comparisons between children who had depressed parents versus children growing up with non-depressed parents. Following children for 20 years, it was found that children of depressed parents had higher rates of anxiety disorders, major depression, and substance abuse problems than did children of non-depressed parents.

But a newer study helps to refine these results somewhat better. Looking at children’s risk for depression, this study, published in the journal Psychological Science, reports that children with depressed parents get more stressed out more easily than children with healthy parents. But these findings were dependent on one thing – how negative the depressed parents were to their child.  The researchers from the University of Maryland and Stony Brook University found that kids who showed the most stress were those whose mothers were depressed at some point in the child’s first three years of life and whose parents were hostile when playing with their children.

While these findings only apply to stress, it is known that stress is a risk factor for depression. But if a parent is depressed and reacts in an irritated, hostile, and negative way to their child, that child is seemingly at risk for their own depression.

The results of the continually cumulating findings have very broad implications for both mothers and fathers. If you have children, and if you are depressed, failure to receive effective treatment is likely to result in long-term consequences for your children. These consequences may appear as early as the first year of life, but could continue on into adulthood.

How Ten Year Olds Handle Death

How Ten Year Olds Handle Death


A family physician asked me the other day why a 10-year-old boy brought to her for an examination would not tell her that his father had just died.

“He was brought to me by his aunt who said he had been sick in the last few days,” the doctor said. “In the course of my examination of him, I asked him how he had been feeling and if there was anything unusual going on in his life. He just said that everything was all right. It was only later in talking to his very distraught mother that I learned that her husband was killed in an accident just two days before the appointment.”

The doctor’s question to me was simple: “Why wouldn’t he tell me that?”

This family physician is a maternal woman who prides herself on talking to her patients and being willing to listen to them. She didn’t think she asked the wrong questions, but she wondered if there wasn’t something diagnostic in his hiding of the fact of his father’s sudden death.

I told the doctor that she had to better understand 10-year-olds to get a sense of why he wouldn’t talk about his father’s death.

Ten is a fairly stable age in many respects — psychologically, socially, and intellectually. Many tens are happy, easy going, and balanced. They tend to be highly attuned to their peer group. And they relate to parents with compliance and submission to authority. They don’t often become angry, but when they do they don’t handle their angry feelings well. They can be quite explosive and even violent. They may look for ways to get even with someone who has wronged them.

While the ten is respectful to the authority of parents and adults, if he feels he’s been handled unfairly, watch out. He can get very angry at any adult who treats him unfairly.

However, it’s how children around the age of 10 handle the death of a parent that is most significant. Certainly, for all children the death of a parent is a highly stressful event. Most children of every age will experience grief, sadness, and even despair following the death of a parent.

Although tens use more logical thinking than younger children and they better understand cause and effect, yet they also tend to frequently use compartmentalization and distraction to deal with strong emotions. So, a ten year old, like the one my friend saw, can tuck his feelings of shock and grief over the death of his father in a corner of his brain, and not deal directly with it. That’s why he could deny anything unusual going on in his life.

When the physician asked him about his life, if he had broken down and cried, he would have later felt embarrassment. To avoid this embarrassing show of emotion, he compartmentalizes his feelings. That is, he immerses himself in school or sports, thinking about other things that interest him.

However, when he goes to the funeral and is confronted by the lifeless body of his father and the grief of his mother and sisters, he may no longer be able to hide what he’s feeling. In the doctor’s office, though, he was very adept at avoiding what may really have been overwhelming emotion and grief.

I told my friend she didn’t have to break through this with this boy – or the next ten-year-old she encounters. But she needs to be aware that children about this age still need to deal with their feelings, although it’s best that they do this in private or with someone they know and trust. Because preadolescents like this boy are subject to depression, the doctor needs to make sure in follow up visits that he is grieving in an appropriate way.

Determining the Cause of Declining Grades in High School

Determining the Cause of Declining Grades in High School


If your child has always done well in school until they entered high school, you may be concerned as to why they don’t achieve as well as they did in elementary school or middle school.

This is a concern for many parents of high school freshman and sophomores this fall. For example, Diana said her 16-year-old son Joshua had always attained A and B grades until he started high school.

“We thought he would continue to receive excellent grades in high school,” Diana said. “But we noticed he began failing tests. He’s a sophomore now and his grades continue to drop as they did throughout his first year.”

Diana described Joshua as a talented football player who could receive college scholarship offers. “He is really a great kid,” she said. “Josh has a great group of friends who are involved in sports at school and they are all excellent students.  He never causes us any concern at home – except for his school grades.”

She says that Joshua seems to want to do well at school and he appears to try hard to pass tests and get good grades. “However,” Diana says, “he is very disorganized and he doesn’t want to take our advice about organizing his school work or changing his study habits.”

Furthermore, Diana says she and her husband have tried studying with Joshua, and they’ve done a lot of talking to him about what could be going wrong and how he needs to try harder to be successful in his academics. “But what we’ve found is that no matter what we do it doesn’t works,” Diana explains, “and he doesn’t seem to have the same kind of commitment to academics as he does to football. We’ve noticed that when he says he is studying he seems to be daydreaming rather than concentrating on his work.”

Diana and her husband wonder if they should be punishing Joshua or whether he needs some kind of professional help.

If you have a teenager with a similar problem, there are several possibilities that could explain the lack of success at school.

Many teenagers at about the time they start high school are trying to cope with all of the changes they have to endure as adolescents. Physical changes and puberty, relationships with the opposite sex, and trying to find a way of fitting in with their peers often take precedence over studying and grades. The perils of figuring out who they are, finding their way with peers, and beginning the process of becoming more independent from their parents leads some teens to become withdrawn and depressed.

However, there is at least one other possible explanation for the downhill slide in academics at this stage in their lives. A great many students had success prior to high school, but they got by on the basis of compliant behavior in the classroom along with intelligence and a good memory. However, high school is different. It requires more organization and study skills which some students never developed.

In the case of Joshua and other young people, their disorganized approach to school work along with attention problems create difficulties which they cannot overcome just by continuing to behave in the classroom and by being smart. While Joshua may not have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, he apparently does a lot of daydreaming and he is disorganized.  He may, therefore, have attention deficits which need to be addressed.

It is not uncommon for adolescents like Joshua, who have attention and organization problems, to resist advice from their parents. Many of them deny the symptoms that go along with attention deficit problems, which include a short attention span, impulsivity, and hyperactivity, because they don’t want to be tagged with a disorder. Because of their concern about not living up to the standards for academic excellence in their families, they sometimes become depressed. But depression is not the cause of their academic difficulties. Rather, it is a by product.

If this sounds like your teen, it would be important to have them evaluated by an experienced child and adolescent psychologist who has assessed many previous students for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.  Ruling ADHD in or out would be a first step in determining the cause of the declining high school grades. Once the difficulty has been identified, then it can be dealt with both by you and your teen.

Sibling Rivalry Will Happen; Here’s How to Help Your Firstborn Adjust

Sibling Rivalry Will Happen; Here’s How to Help Your Firstborn Adjust


Sibling rivalry is a fact of life. Just ask any parent who has two or more children.

It wasn’t difficult for Elaine, the mother of a two-month-old baby girl and a three-year-old son, to see this fact of life. “When our son was laying on the floor in a fetal position and had his thumb in his mouth and asked me to give him a bottle,” Elaine said. “I knew immediately that he was feeling like he wasn’t getting enough attention.”

Chet also knew his daughter had feelings about her baby sister when he observed her walk quietly in the room where her younger sister was sleeping and hit her six-month-old sibling in the head with a toy. When Chet told her she needed to be gentle to her baby sister, Samantha said very bluntly, “When is she going back to the hospital? I don’t like her!”

These are rather obvious signs that a child is feeling jealous of a newly arrived sibling. When toddlers or preschoolers act in an aggressive manner toward a younger sibling, it is usually because they resent sharing the spotlight with a new brother or sister, or because they resent being ignored or left out. And when young children regress in their behavior (by, for instance, insisting that they be fed out of a bottle, crying more frequently, or by suddenly having more toileting accidents), it can be related to the arrival of a new sibling.

But it’s not that you didn’t do a good job preparing your child for a new baby. I think most parents do a great job of trying to help young children be aware of and accepting a new baby in the family. Parents these days are very much aware of the need to make sure older children know a baby is coming and to understand that they will be sharing their life with a new child.

No matter how well you prepare your child for a new baby, however, your older child – and sometimes not even you – will be fully prepared for the changes that are likely to take place in the family when a new baby comes along. For parents, it may be exhausting caring for a new baby around the clock, and this sometimes means that an older child doesn’t get nearly the attention she once did.

So what can you do when you recognize that you have a child who feels jealous, angry, or excluded?

Be aware that despite your best efforts sibling rivalry will very likely happen. It might not be apparent in the first few days, but in the later weeks and months it will be and it could go on for months.

Give your older child as much time and attention as possible. You may be sleep deprived and you may be most concerned about your baby settling into sleep and eating routines, but your older child needs to know you still love her.

Allow your first born to be a baby sometimes. Many children regress as they feel left out, so they go backwards in their development and in their needs. Allow this for a while and if he needs more cuddling and if he needs to be treated like a littler child, try to indulge him.

Look for opportunities to point out that the baby loves your older child. She may not always feel so loving towards the new kid in the family, but he will feel better if he begins to believe the baby likes him.

Teach affectionate alternatives to aggression. Many young children act in angry and aggressive ways towards the baby they see as an intruder in their life. Obviously, you want to protect the baby, but you have to teach your older child how to show gentleness and kindness when his aggression gets the better of him.

Try to enlist your older child’s help. Let him hold the baby, feed the infant a bottle, or help out when you give the baby a bath.

Finally, help him label his unpleasant feelings. You can say that children like to kiss babies sometimes and sometimes they would like the baby to go away. Many children have both feelings. But tell him that no matter what he feels about the baby, you’ll love him anyway. And remember, that’s what sibling rivalry is all about – not feeling like a beloved child after a new baby comes into the family.