Caregiver’s history of depressive symptoms and child affect expression in the context of structured interaction tasks

Vahlsing, Julia
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University of Delaware
Reduced positive emotionality (PE) in children of depressed mothers has been identified as a risk factor for later depression. In the current study we explored the associations between maternal history of depression, avoidance of emotions (experiential avoidance, EA), and sensitivity to child expression of affect in response to interactive tasks designed to elicit positive and negative affect. Participants were 32 caregivers and their preschool-aged children enrolled in a daycare center. Children interacted with both caregivers and experimenters. Caregiver’s history of depression and EA were associated with lower positive affect and sensitivity to child’s emotions respectively. In contrast to findings of low PE in children of depressed mothers, higher caregiver past depression scores were associated with the expression of more positive affect (interest/engagement/excitement) in their children and a tendency to express less negative internalizing affect. These findings were specific to interactions with the caregiver. This pattern of avoidance of emotion, decreased sensitivity to child affective expressions, and more positive and less negative child affect suggest a possible link between maternal depression and child emotion regulation.