During the COVID-19 Pandemic, Parent Depressive Symptoms Associated With Greater Child Negative Affect
Background: Maternal depression may negatively impact the quality of parent-child interactions, which in turn is associated with greater negative emotionality and behavior problems in children (Lunkenheimer et al., 2012). Limited financial resources can also put a strain on parents; low-income parents experience higher levels of depressive symptoms than their higher-income counterparts (Kerr et al., 2021). Parent mental health can bias parent reports of child affect (Durbin & Wilson 2012). The goal of the current study is to test the association between parent depressive symptoms, family income, and child negative affect during the COVID-19 pandemic. We hypothesized that both higher parent depressive symptoms and lower family incomes would be associated with higher child negative affect, and that family income and depressive symptoms would interact such that high income would have a greater protective effect at lower levels of parent depressive symptoms. Method: 282 caregivers (13 fathers, 269 mothers) of toddlers (M=24.41 months, SD=4.95 months, 139 female) were included in analyses. The sample was mainly white and non-Hispanic. Parent depressive symptoms and parent report child negative affect were assessed using the Center for Epidemiological Studies - Depression (CES-D; Radloff, 1977) scale and the Early Childhood Behavior Questionnaire (ECBQ; Putnam et al. 2010), respectively. Results: Parent depressive symptoms were generally low (M = 10.43, range = 0 - 48, scale range = 0 – 60, 23% met clinical cut-point). Parent income as a percentage of the federal poverty level (FPL), where 100% indicates living at the poverty time, was generally high (Median = 477% of FPL, range = 40 - 1151% of FPL). While parent depressive symptoms were significantly positively associated with child negative affect (β = 0.30, p < .001), income was not correlated with depressive symptoms, nor did income moderate the association between parent depressive symptoms and child negative affect. Conclusion: During the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health services may have intergenerational effects and be beneficial for both parents and their young children. However, depressed parents may be more likely to rate their child high on negative affect. The range of incomes was perhaps too narrow and too high to reveal the frequently noted association between income and parent depression.