Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology

, Volume 21, Issue 3, pp 245–269 | Cite as

The effect of maternal depression on maternal ratings of child behavior

  • David M. Fergusson
  • Michael T. Lynskey
  • L. John Horwood


There have been continuing concerns about the extent to which maternal depression may influence maternal reports of child behavior. To examine this issue, a series of structural equation models of the relationships between maternal depression and errors in maternal reports of child behavior was proposed and tested. These models assumed that (a) maternal depression was unrelated to maternal reporting behavior; (b) maternal depression causally influenced maternal reporting accuracy; (c) maternal depression was correlated with reporting accuracy. These models were fitted to data on maternal depression and multipleinformant (mother, teacher, child) reports of conduct disorder and attention deficit behaviors for a birth cohort of 12 and 13yearold New Zealand children. The results of model fitting suggested the presence of small to moderate correlations (@#@ r=+.13 to+.40) between maternal depression and maternal reporting errors, indicating the presence of a tendency for increasing maternal depression to be associated with a tendency for mothers to overreport child behavior problems. However, independently of any effects of maternal depression on maternal reporting errors there was evidence of small but significant associations (r=.10 to .17; p<.05)between maternal depression and child conduct disorder and attention deficit behaviors.


Behavior Problem Equation Model Structural Equation Structural Equation Model Birth Cohort 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Achenbach, T. M., McConaughy, S. H., & Howell, C. T. (1987). Child/adolescent behavioral and emotional problems: Implications of cross-informant correlations for situational specificity.Psychological Bulletin, 101, 213–232.Google Scholar
  2. Ackerman, R., & De Rubels, R. J. (1991). Is depressive realism real? Clinical Psychology Review, 11, 565–584.Google Scholar
  3. Alison, P. D. (1987). Estimation of linear models with incomplete data. In C. C. Clogg (Ed.),Sociological methodology. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  4. American Psychiatric Association (1987).Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (3rd ed., rev.). Washington, DC: Author.Google Scholar
  5. Billings, A. G., & Moos, R. H. (1986). Children of parents with unipolar depression: A controlled 1-year follow up.Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 14, 149–166.Google Scholar
  6. Breslau, N., Davis, G., & Prabucki, K. (1988). Depressed mothers as informants in family history research-Are they accurate?Psychiatry Research, 24, 345–359.Google Scholar
  7. Brown, R. T., & Pacini, J. M. (1989). Perceived family functioning, marital status, and depression in parents of boys with attention deficit disorder.Journal of Learning Disabilities, 9, 581–587.Google Scholar
  8. Gonners, C. K. (1969). A teacher ratings scale for use in drug studies with children.American Journal of Psychiatry, 126, 884–888.Google Scholar
  9. Conners, C. K. (1970). Symptom patterns in hyperkinetic, neurotic and normal children.Child Development, 41, 667–682.Google Scholar
  10. Conrad, M., & Hammen, C. (1989). Role of maternal depression in perceptions of child maladjustment.Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 57, 663–667.Google Scholar
  11. Cundall, D. B. (1987). Children and mothers at clinics: Who is disturbed?Archives of Disease in Childhood, 62, 820–824.Google Scholar
  12. Cytryn, L., McKnew, D. M., Zahn-Waxler, C., & Gershon, E. S. (1986). Developmental issues in risk research: The offspring of affectively ill parents. In M. Rutter, C. E. Izard, & P. B. Read (Eds.),Depression in young people. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  13. Downey, G., & Coyne, J. C. (1990). Children of depressed parents: An integrative review.Psychological Bulletin, 108, 50–76.Google Scholar
  14. Dumas, J. E., Gibson, J. A., & Albin, J. B. (1989). Behavioral correlates of maternal depressive symptomatology in conduct disorder children.Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 57, 516–521.Google Scholar
  15. Estroff, T. W., Herrera, C., Gaines, R., Shaffer, D., Gould, M., & Green, A. H. (1984). Maternal psychopathology and perception of child behavior in psychiatrically referred and child maltreatment families.Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry, 23, 649–652.Google Scholar
  16. Fergusson, D. M., Fergusson, J. E., Horwood, L. J., & Kinzett, N. G. (1988). A longitudinal study of dentine lead levels, intelligence, school performance and behaviour: Part II. Dentine lead and cognitive ability.Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 29, 793–809.Google Scholar
  17. Fergusson, D. M., & Horwood, L. J. (1987a). The trait and method components of ratings of conduct disorder: Part II. Factors related to the trait component of conduct disorder scores.Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 28, 261–272.Google Scholar
  18. Fergusson, D. M., & Horwood, L. J. (1987b) The trait and method components of ratings of conduct disorder: Part I. Maternal and teacher evaluations of conduct disorder in young children.Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 28, 249–260.Google Scholar
  19. Fergusson, D. M., & Horwood, L. J. (1989). Estimation of method and trait variance in ratings of conduct disorder.Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 30, 365–378.Google Scholar
  20. Fergusson, D. M., & Horwood, L. J. (in press). The structure, stability and correlations of the trait components of conduct disorder, attention deficit and anxiety/withdrawal reports.Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.Google Scholar
  21. Fergusson, D. M., Horwood, L. J., Gretton, M. E., & Shannon, F. T. (1985). Family life events, maternal depression, and maternal and teacher descriptions of child behavior.Pediatrics, 75, 30–35.Google Scholar
  22. Fergusson, D. M., Horwood, L. J., & Lloyd, M. (1991). Confirmatory factor models of attention deficit and conduct disorder.Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 32, 257–274.Google Scholar
  23. Fergusson, D. M., Horwood, L. J., & Shannon, F. T. (1984). Relationship of family life events, maternal depression, and child-rearing problems.Pediatrics, 73, 773–776.Google Scholar
  24. Fergusson, D. M., Horwood, L. J., Shannon, F. T., & Lawton, J. M. (1989). The Christchurch Child Development Study: A review of epidemiological findings.Pediatrie and Perinatal Epidemiology, 3, 278–301.Google Scholar
  25. Forehand, R., Furey, W. M., & McMahon, R. J. (1984). The role of maternal distress in a parent training programme to modify child noncompliance.Behavioral Psychotherapy, 12, 93–108.Google Scholar
  26. Forehand, R., Lautenschlager, G. J., Faust, J., & Graziano, W. G. (1986). Parent perceptions and parent-child interactions in clinic referred children: A preliminary investigation of the effects of maternal depressed moods.Behavioural Research and Therapy, 24, 73–75.Google Scholar
  27. Friedlander, S., Weiss, D. S., & Traylor, J. (1986). Assessing the influence of maternal depression on the validity of the Child Behavior Checklist.Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 14, 123–133.Google Scholar
  28. Gelfand, D. M., & Teti, D. M. (1990). The effects of maternal depression on children.Clinical Psychology Review, 10, 329–353.Google Scholar
  29. Goodman, S. H., & Brumley, H. E. (1990). Schizophrenic and depressed mothers: Relational deficits in parenting.Developmental Psychology, 26, 31–39.Google Scholar
  30. Graham, P., & Stevenson, J. (1985). A twin study of genetic influences on behavioral deviance.Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry, 24, 33–41.Google Scholar
  31. Griest, D. L., Forehand, R., Wells, K. C., & McMahon, R. J. (1980). An examination of differences between non clinic and behavior problem clinic-referred children and their mothers.Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 24, 33–41.Google Scholar
  32. Griest, D. L., Wells, K. C., & Forehand, R. (1979). An examination of predictors of maternal perceptions of maladjustment in clinic-referred children.Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 88, 277–281.Google Scholar
  33. Hammen, C., Gordon, D., Bürge, D., Adrian, C., Jaenicke, C., & Hiroto, D. (1987). Maternal affective disorders, illness, and stress: Risk for children's psychopathology.American Journal of Psychiatry, 144, 736–741.Google Scholar
  34. Hirsch, B. J., Moos, R. J., & Reischl, T. M. (1985). Psychosocial adjustment of adolescent children of a depressed, arthritic or normal parent.Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 95, 154–164.Google Scholar
  35. Ivens, C., & Rehm, L. P. (1988). Assessment of childhood depression: Correspondence between reports by child, mother and father.Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 27, 742–747.Google Scholar
  36. Jensen, P. S., Traylor, J., Xenakis, S. N., & Davis, H. (1988). Child psychopathology rating scales and interrater agreement: I. Parents' gender and psychiatric status.Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 27, 442–450.Google Scholar
  37. Joreskog, K. G., & Sorbom, D. (1989).LJSREL 7: User's reference guide. Mooresville, IN: Scientific Software.Google Scholar
  38. Lee, C. M., & Gotlib, I. H. (1989). Maternal depression and child adjustment: A longitudinal analysis.Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 98, 78–85.Google Scholar
  39. Moretti, M. M., Fine, S., Haley, G., & Marriage, K. (1985). Childhood and adolescent depression: Child-report versus parent-report information.Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry, 24, 298–302.Google Scholar
  40. Orvaschel, H., Walsh-Allis, G., & Ye, W. (1988). Psychopathology in children of parents with recurrent depression.Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 16, 17–28.Google Scholar
  41. Panaccione, V. F., & Wahler, R. G. (1986). Child behavior, maternal depression, and social coercion as factors in the quality of child care.Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 14, 263–278.Google Scholar
  42. Pilowsky, I., & Boulton, D. M. (1970). Development of a questionnaire-based decision rule for classifying depressed patients.British Journal of Psychiatry, 116, 647.Google Scholar
  43. Pilowsky, I., Levine, S., & Boulton, D. M. (1969). The classification of depression by numerical taxonomy. British Journal of Psychiatry, 115, 937–945.Google Scholar
  44. Radke-Yarrow, M., Cummings, E. M., Kuzynski, L., & Chapman, M. (1985). Patterns of attachment in two and three year olds in normal families and families with parental depression.Child Development, 36, 884–893.Google Scholar
  45. Richters, J. E. (1992). Depressed mothers as informants about their children: A critical review of the evidence for distortion.Psychological Bulletin, 112, 485–499.Google Scholar
  46. Richters, J., & Pellegrini, D. (1989). Depressed mothers' judgments about their children: An examination of the depression-distortion hypothesis.Child Development, 60, 1068–1075.Google Scholar
  47. Rickard, K. M. Forehand, R., Wells, K. C.s Griest, D. L., & McMahon, R. J. (1981). Factors in the referral of children for behavioural treatment: A comparison of mothers of clinic-referred deviant, clinic-referred non-deviant and non-clinic children.Behaviour Research and Therapy, 19, 201–205.Google Scholar
  48. Rutter, M. (1990). Commentary: Some focus and process considerations regarding effects of parental depression on children.Developmental Psychology, 26, 60–67.Google Scholar
  49. Rutter, M., Tizard, J., & Whitmore, K. (1970).Education, health and behaviour. London: Longman.Google Scholar
  50. Schaughency, E. A., & Lahey, B. B. (1985). Mothers' and fathers' perceptions of child deviance: Roles of child behavior, parental depression, and marital satisfaction.Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 53, 718–723.Google Scholar
  51. Webster-Stratton, C. (1988). Mothers' and fathers' perceptions of child deviance: Roles of parent and child behaviors and parent adjustment.Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 56, 909–915.Google Scholar
  52. Weissman, M. (1988). Psychopathology in the children of depressed parents: Direct interview studies. In D. L. Dunner, E. S. Gershon, & J. E. Barrett (Eds.),Relatives at risk for mental disorder. New York: Raven Press.Google Scholar
  53. Weissman, M., Wickramarante, P., Warner, U., John, K., Prusoff, B. A., Merikangas, K. R., & Gammon, D. (1987). Assessing psychiatric disorders in children: Discrepancies between mothers' and childrens' reports.Archives of General Psychiatry, 44, 747–753.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • David M. Fergusson
    • 1
  • Michael T. Lynskey
    • 1
  • L. John Horwood
    • 1
  1. 1.Christchurch Health and Development StudyChristchurch School of Medicine, Christchurch HospitalChristchurchNew Zealand

Personalised recommendations