Impact of maternal mental health on preschooler emotional development and communication
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Previous research shows that maternal depression and anxiety can change the way mothers interact with their infants. However, there is little research that explores both the impact of maternal depression and anxiety, the two most common adult mental health problems, on mother-child communication and emotional expression, nor with each of these components in the same study and with a preschool population. The current study examined several aspects of communication between 24 mothers and their preschoolers; total amount of speech, responsiveness of the mother, vocal affect of the mother and preschooler, emotion words used by the mother and preschooler, and maternal pitch. Mothers answered various questionnaires used to evaluate their symptoms of depression, then read a story to their child on camera. Unfortunately, anxiety measures were unusable for the analysis. Trained research assistants watched these videos and assessed the previously mentioned communication variables. Simple linear regressions explored how these variables varied across mothers with current depression and their child of 3-4 years of age (M = 3.7). The study did not find evidence that symptoms of current depression (M = 8.79) significantly impacted total amount of speech (M = 100.88), responsivity (M = 8.96), vocal affect (M = 1.02), use of emotion words (M = 39.04), mean pitch (M = 230.20) or pitch range (357.20) of mothers (M = 357.20). Additionally, current symptoms of depression in mothers did not significantly impact preschoolers’ amount of speech (M = 23.17), vocal affect (M = 0.92) or use of emotion words (M = 4.04). These nonsignificant results may be attributed to the small sample size, the non-clinical population recruited, and the structured activity in which mothers participated. Further research in this area is suggested.