Mother-child interactions in depressed children and children at high risk and low risk for future depression

Laura J. Dietz, Boris Birmaher, Douglas E. Williamson, Jennifer S. Silk, Ronald E. Dahl, David A. Axelson, Mary Ehmann, Neal D. Ryan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE: To compare mother-child interactions and parenting styles in families of children with major depressive disorder, youths at high risk for depression, and healthy controls. METHOD: Currently depressed (n = 43), high-risk (n = 28), and healthy control (n = 41) youths and their mothers engaged in a standardized videotaped problem-solving interaction. Measures of affect and behavior for both mothers and children were obtained, in addition to global measures of parenting. RESULTS: Depressed children demonstrated more negativity and less positivity in dyadic interactions than did children at high risk and control children. Mothers of depressed children were more disengaged than control mothers. Exploratory repeated-measures analyses in a subgroup of depressed children (n = 16) suggested mother-child interactions do not significantly change when children recover from depression. Children at high risk demonstrated less positivity in dyadic interactions than did controls. Mothers with a history of major depressive disorder and mothers with higher current depressive symptoms demonstrated patterns of disengagement and low control in interactions with children. CONCLUSIONS: Mother-child interactions in depressed youths are marked by maternal disengagement and low child positivity that may not improve when children recover. The bidirectional effects of maternal disengagement and low levels of child positivity may precede onset of major depressive disorder in children and serve as risk factors for recurrent depression in youths. Copyright 2008

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)574-582
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2008


  • High risk
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Mother-child interaction
  • Parenting

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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