Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology

, Volume 36, Issue 4, pp 527-537

First online:

Current and Past Maternal Depression, Maternal Interaction Behaviors, and Children’s Externalizing and Internalizing Symptoms

  • Cynthia J. Ewell FosterAffiliated withDepartment of Psychiatry, University of Michigan Email author 
  • , Judy GarberAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology and Human Development, Vanderbilt University
  • , Joseph A. DurlakAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Loyola University Chicago

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Relations among past maternal depressive disorder, current depressive symptoms, current maternal interaction behaviors, and children’s adjustment were examined in a sample of 204 women and their young adolescent offspring (mean age = 11.86, SD = 0.55). Mothers either had (n = 157) or had not (n = 57) experienced at least one depressive disorder during the child’s life. Mothers and children participated in a problem-solving task, video-taped for later coding. Mothers with current depressive symptoms and those with histories of chronic/severe depressive disorders displayed fewer positive behaviors toward their children; mothers with current depressive symptoms also showed more negative behaviors with their children. The relation between mothers’ depression history and their behavior during the interaction with their child was partially mediated by mothers’ current mood state. Moreover, high levels of maternal negativity and low levels of positivity during the problem-solving task were related to children’s externalizing problems. Maternal positivity partially mediated the relation between maternal depression and children’s externalizing symptoms. These findings highlight the importance of providing parenting interventions for depressed mothers.


Maternal depression Parent–child interactions Externalizing and internalizing symptoms Observational research