Improvements in Maternal Depression as a Mediator of Child Behaviour Change


Depression is a common and debilitating illness and there is a strong association between maternal depression and childhood Conduct Disorder (CD). This paper examines the impact of maternal depression on the outcome of treatment for the prevention of CD. Data from the Hutchings et al. (2007) Randomised Controlled Trial (RCT) of a parenting programme for parents of high-risk three and four year olds are used to explore the potential role of change in maternal depression as a mediator of child behaviour outcome. The role of positive parenting as an additional mediator was also examined due to previous research findings. Improvement in maternal depression was found to be a significant partial mediator of improvement in child behaviour. Maternal depression continued to be a partial mediator when positive parenting was included in the mediation model. Parenting interventions for the prevention of CD are more likely to result in improved child behaviour when they also address the skill deficits known to be associated with maternal depression.

Share and Cite:

Hutchings, J. , Bywater, T. , Williams, M. , Lane, E. & Whitaker, C. (2012). Improvements in Maternal Depression as a Mediator of Child Behaviour Change. Psychology, 3, 795-801. doi: 10.4236/psych.2012.329120.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


[1] Abidin, R. R. (1995). Parenting stress index: Manual (3rd ed.). Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources.
[2] Achenbach, T. M., & Edelbrock, C. (1983). Manual for the child behavior checklist and revised child behavior profile. Burlington: University of Vermont, Department of Psychiatry.
[3] Alpern, L., & Lyons-Ruth, K. (1993). Pre-school children at social risk: Chronicity and timing of maternal depressive symptoms and child behaviour problems at school and at home. Development and Psychopathology, 5, 371-387. doi:10.1017/S0954579400004478
[4] Barlow, J., Coren, E., & Stewart-Brown, S. (2009). Parent-training programmes for improving maternal psychosocial health. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 1.
[5] Baron, R. M., & Kenny, D. A. (1986). The moderator-mediator variable distinction in social psychological research: Conceptual, strategic, and statistical considerations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51, 1173-1182. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.51.6.1173
[6] Beauchaine, T., Webster-Stratton, C., & Reid, M. J. (2005). Mediators, moderators, and predictors of one-year outcomes among children treated for early-onset conduct problems: A latent growth curve analysis. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 73, 371- 388. doi:10.1037/0022-006X.73.3.371
[7] Beck, A. T., Steer, R. A. & Brown, G. K. (1996). Beck depression inventory (2nd ed.). San Antonio, TX: The Psychological Corporation.
[8] Beck, A. T., Ward, C. H., Mendelson, M., Mock, J. E., & Erbaugh, J. K. (1961). An inventory for measuring depression. Archives of General Psychiatry, 4, 561-571. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1961.01710120031004
[9] Bywater, T., Hutchings, J., Daley, D., Whitaker, C., Yeo, S. T., Jones, K., Eames, C., & Edwards, R. T. (2009). Long-term effectiveness of a parenting intervention in Sure Start services in Wales for children at risk of developing conduct disorder. British Journal of Psychiatry, 195, 318-324. doi:10.1192/bjp.bp.108.056531
[10] Cummings, E. M., & Davies, P. T. (1994). Maternal depression and child development. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 35, 73-112. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.1994.tb01133.x
[11] Dearing, E., & Hamilton, L. C. (2005). V. contemporary advances and classic advice for analyzing mediating and moderating variables. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 71, 88-104. doi:10.1111/j.1540-5834.2006.00406.x
[12] DeGarmo, D. S., Patterson, G. R., & Forgatch, M. S. (2004). Why do parent training intervention outcomes maintain or wane over time? Prevention Science, 5, 73-89. doi:10.1023/B:PREV.0000023078.30191.e0
[13] Evans, J., Williams, J. M. G, O’Loughlin, S., & Howells, K. (1992). Autobiographical memory and problem solving strategies of parasuicide patients. Psychological Medicine, 22, 399-405. doi:10.1017/S0033291700030348
[14] Eyberg, S.M. & Matarazzo, R.G. (1980). Training parents as therapists: A comparison between individual parent-child interaction training and parent group didactic training. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 36, 492-498. doi:10.1002/jclp.6120360218
[15] Eyberg, S. M., & Robinson, E. A. (1981). Dyadic parent-child interacttion coding system. Seattle, WA: Parenting Clinic, University of Washington.
[16] Ferster, C. B. (1973). A functional analysis of depression. American Psychologist, 28, 857-870. doi:10.1037/h0035605
[17] Field, T. (1995a). Infants of depressed mothers. Infant Behaviour and Development, 18, 1-13. doi:10.1016/0163-6383(95)90003-9
[18] Field, T. (1995b). Psychologically depressed patients. In: M. H. Bornstein (Ed.). Handbook of parenting, vol.4: Applied and practical parenting. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
[19] Forehand, R., Furey, W. M., & McMahon, R. J. (1984). The role of maternal distress in a parent training programme. Behaviour Therapy, 11, 488-502. doi:10.1016/S0005-7894(80)80065-7
[20] Gardner, F., Shaw, D. S., Dishion, T. J., Burton, J., & Supplee, L. (2007). Randomized prevention trial for early conduct problems: Effects on proactive parenting and links to toddler disruptive behavior. Journal of Family Psychology, 21, 398-406. doi:10.1037/0893-3200.21.3.398
[21] Gardner, F., Hutchings, J., & Bywater, T. (2010). Who benefits and how does it work? Moderators and mediators of outcome in an effectiveness trial of a parenting interventions in multiple ‘Sure Start’ services. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 39, 568- 580. doi:10.1080/15374416.2010.486315
[22] Goodman, S. H., Rouse, M. H., Connell, A. M., Broth, M. R., Hall, C. M., & Heyward, D. (2011). Maternal depression and child psycho- pathology: A meta-analytic review. Clinical Child & Family Psy- chology Review, 14, 1-27. doi:10.1007/s10567-010-0080-1
[23] Gross, H. E., Shaw, D. S., & Moilanen, K. L. (2008). Reciprocal associations between boys’ externalizing problems and mothers’ depresssive symptoms. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 36, 693-709. doi:10.1007/s10802-008-9224-x
[24] Hinshaw, S. P. (2002). Intervention research, theoretical mechanisms, and causal processes related to externalizing behaviour patterns. Development and Psychopathology, 14, 789-818. doi:10.1017/S0954579402004078
[25] Hutchings, J. (1996). Evaluating a behaviourally based parent training group: Outcomes for parents, children and health visitors. Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy, 24, 150-171. doi:10.1017/S1352465800017410
[26] Hutchings, J., Smith, M., & Gilbert, H. (2000). The Parent-Child Autobiographical Memory Test (PCAMT). Identifying potential deficits in maternal observation style. Spotlight No. 43, Cardiff: Wales Office for Research and Development (WORD).
[27] Hutchings, J., Lane, E., & Kelly, J. (2004). Comparison of two treatments for children with severely disruptive behaviours: A four-year follow-up. Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy, 32, 15-30. doi:10.1017/S1352465804001018
[28] Hutchings, J., Gardner, F., & Lane, E. (2005). Chapter 5: Making evi- dence-based interventions work. In: C. Sutton, D. Utting, & D. Farrington (Eds.), Support from the start: Working with young children and their families to reduce the risks of crime and anti-social behaviour. Nottingham: Department for Education and Skills.
[29] Hutchings, J., Nash, S., Williams, J. M. G., & Nightingale, D. (1998). Parental autobiographical memory: Is this a helpful clinical measure in behavioural child management? British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 37, 303-312. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8260.1998.tb01387.x
[30] Hutchings, J., Eade, J., Jones, K. & Bywater, T. (2004) Protocol of measures for health foundation funded programme, “Evaluation of Webster-Stratton group parenting programme with parents of at-risk preschool children in Sure Start Centres across Wales”. Bangor, Wales: Bangor University.
[31] Hutchings, J., Appleton, P., Smith, M., Lane, E., & Nash, S. (2002). Evaluation of two treatments for children with severe behaviour problems: Child behaviour and maternal mental health outcomes. Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy, 30, 279-295. doi:10.1017/S1352465802003041
[32] Hutchings, J., Bywater, T., Williams, M. E., Whitaker, C. J. & Lane, E. (2011). The extended school aged incredible years parent programme. Child and Adolescent Mental Health, 16, 136-143. doi:10.111/j.1475-3588.2010.00590.x
[33] Hutchings, J., Bywater, T., Daley, D., Gardner, F., Whitaker, C. J., Jones, K., Eames, C., & Edwards, R. T. (2007). Parenting intervention in sure start services for children at risk of developing conduct disorder: Pragmatic randomized controlled trial. British Medical Journal, 334, 678-685. doi:10.1136/bmj.39126.620799.55
[34] Laurenceau, J.-P., Hayes, A. M., & Feldman, G. C. (2007). Some methodological and statistical issues in the study of change processes in psychotherapy. Clinical Psychology Review, 27, 682-695. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2007.01.007
[35] McMahon, R. J., & Frick, P. J. (2005). Evidence-based assessment of conduct problems in children and adolescents. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 34, 477-505. doi:10.1207/s15374424jccp3403_6
[36] Mensah, F. K. & Kiernan, K. E. (2010). Parents’ mental health and children’s cognitive and social development. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 45, 1023-1035. doi:10.1007/s00127-009-0137-y
[37] Meunier, L. J. (2007). Maternal depressive symptoms and parenting behavior: child behaviour as an activator of maternal responsiveness. Ph.D. Thesis, Austin: University of Texas.
[38] Patterson, G. R. (1982). Coercive family process. Eugene, OR: Castalia.
[39] Pollock, L. R., & Williams, J. M. G. (2001). Effective problem solving in suicide attempters depends on specific autobiographical recall. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 31, 386-396. doi:10.1521/suli.31.4.386.22041
[40] Preacher, K. J., & Hayes, A. (2004). SPSS and SAS procedures for estimating indirect effects in simple mediation models. Behavior Re- search Methods, Instruments, & Computers, 36, 717-731. doi:10.3758/BF03206553
[41] Preacher, K. J., & Hayes, A. (2008). Asymptotic and resampling strategies for assessing and comparing indirect effects in multiple mediator models. Behavior Research Methods, 40, 879-891. doi:10.3758/BRM.40.3.879
[42] Robinson, E. A., Eyberg, S. M., & Ross, A.W. (1980). The standardization of an inventory of child conduct problem behaviors. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 9, 22-29. doi:10.1080/15374418009532938
[43] Rutter, M. (1996). Connections between child and adult psychopathology. European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 5, 4-7. doi:10.1007/BF00538535
[44] Seligman, M. E. P. (1975). Helplessness: On depression, development and death. San Francisco: W. H. Freeman.
[45] Shaw, D. S., Connell, A., Dishion, T. J., Wilson, M. N., & Gardner, F. (2009). Improvements in maternal depression as a mediator of intervention effects on early childhood problem behavior. Development and Psychopathology, 21, 417-439. doi:10.1017/S0954579409000236
[46] Sheppard, M. (1994). Childcare, social support and maternal depression: A review and application of findings. British Journal of Social Work, 24, 287-310.
[47] Sheppard, M. (1997). Social work practice in child and family care: A study of maternal depression. British Journal of Social Work, 27, 815-845. doi:10.1093/oxfordjournals.bjsw.a011281
[48] Sheppard, M. (2009). Social support use as a parental coping strategy: Its impact on outcome of child and parenting problems—A six-month follow-up. British Journal of Social Work, 39, 1427-1446. doi:10.1093/bjsw/bcn084
[49] Silberg, J., & Rutter, M. (2002). Nature-nurture interplay in the risks associated with parental depression. In S. H. Goodman & I. H. Gotlib (Eds.), Children of depressed parents: Mechanisms of risk and implications for treatment (pp. 13-36). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. doi:10.1037/10449-001
[50] van Vreeswijk, D. F., & de Wilde, E. J. (2004). Autobiographical memory specificity, psychopathology, depressed mood and the use of the Autobiographical Memory Test: A meta-analysis. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 42, 731-743. doi:10.1016/S0005-7967(03)00194-3
[51] Wahler, R. G., & Dumas, J. E. (1989). Attentional problems in dysfunctional mother-child interactions: An interbehavioral model. Psychological Bulletin, 105, 116-130. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.105.1.116
[52] Wahler, R. G., & Sansbury, L. E. (1990). The monitoring skills of troubled mothers: Their problems in defining child deviance. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 18, 577-589. doi:10.1007/BF00911109
[53] Webster-Stratton, C. (1985). Mother perceptions and mother-child interactions: Comparison of a clinic-referred and non-clinic group. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 14, 334-339. doi:10.1207/s15374424jccp1404_11
[54] Webster-Stratton, C., & Hammond, M. (1988). Maternal depression and its relationship to life stress, perceptions of child behaviour problems, parenting behaviours and child conduct problems. Journal of Abnormal and Clinical Psychology, 16, 31-35.
[55] Webster-Stratton, C., & Herbert, M. (1994). Troubled families: Problem children. Chichester: Wiley.
[56] Webster-Stratton, C., & Spitzer, A. (1996). Parenting a young child with conduct problems: New insights using qualitative methods. Ad- vances in Clinical Child Psychology, 18, 1-62. doi:10.1007/978-1-4613-0323-7_1
[57] Webster-Stratton, C., & Hammond, M. (1998). Conduct problems and level of social competence in head start children: Prevalence, pervasiveness, and associated risk factors. Clinical Child and Family Psy- chology Review, 1, 101-124. doi:10.1023/A:1021835728803
[58] Webster-Stratton, C., & Hancock, L. (1998). Parent training for young children with conduct problems: Content, methods, and therapeutic process. In: C. E. Schaefer, (Ed.). Handbook of parent training. New York: Wiley.
[59] Webster-Stratton, C., & Lindsay, D. W. (1999). Social competence and conduct problems in young children: Issues in assessment. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 28, 25-43. doi:10.1207/s15374424jccp2801_3
[60] Williams, J. M. G. (1996). Depression and the specificity of autobiographical memory. In: D. C. Rubin (Ed.) Remembering our past: Studies in autobiographical memory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
[61] Williams, J. M. G., Barnhofer, T., Crane, C., Herman, D., Raes, F., Watkins, E., & Dalgeish, T. (2007). Autobiographical memory specificity and emotional disorder. Pyshcological Bulletin, 133, 122-148. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.133.1.122

Copyright © 2024 by authors and Scientific Research Publishing Inc.

Creative Commons License

This work and the related PDF file are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.