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Parent and child mental health has suffered during the pandemic and transition phase. Structured and shared parenting may be intervention targets beneficial to families who are struggling with parent or child mental health challenges.
First, we investigated associations between structured and shared parenting and parent depression symptoms. Second, we investigated associations between structured and shared parenting and depression, hyperactivity/inattention and irritability symptoms in children.
A total of 1027 parents in two-parent households (4797 observations total; 85.1% mothers) completed online surveys about themselves and their children (aged 2–18 years) from April 2020 to July 2022. Structured parenting and shared parenting responsibilities were assessed from April 2020 to November 2021. Symptoms of parent depression, child depression, child hyperactivity and inattention, child irritability, and child emotional and conduct problems were assessed repeatedly (one to 14 times; median of four times) from April 2020 to July 2022.
Parents who reported higher levels of shared parenting responsibilities had lower depression symptoms (β = −0.09 to −0.32, all P < 0.01) longitudinally. Parents who reported higher levels of shared parenting responsibilities had children with fewer emotional problems (ages 2–5 years; β = −0.07, P < 0.05), fewer conduct problems (ages 2–5 years; β = −0.09, P < 0.01) and less irritability (ages 13–18 years; β = −0.27, P < 0.001) longitudinally. Structured parenting was associated with fewer conduct problems (ages 2–5 years; β = −0.05, P < 0.05).
Shared parenting is beneficial for parent and child mental health, even under chaotic or inflexible life conditions. Structured parenting is beneficial for younger children.
We examined maternal depression and maternal sensitivity as mediators of the association between maternal childhood adversity and her child's temperament in 239 mother–child dyads from a longitudinal, birth cohort study. We used an integrated measure of maternal childhood adversity that included the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire and the Parental Bonding Index. Maternal depression was assessed with the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale at 6 months postpartum. Maternal sensitivity was assessed with the Ainsworth maternal sensitivity scales at 6 months. A measure of “negative emotionality/behavioral dysregulation” was derived from the Early Childhood Behaviour Questionnaire administered at 36 months. Bootstrapping-based mediation analyses revealed that maternal depression mediated the effect of maternal childhood adversity on offspring negative emotionality/behavioral dysregulation (95% confidence interval [0.026, 0.144]). We also found a serial, indirect effect of maternal childhood adversity on child negative emotionality/behavioral mediated first by maternal depression and then by maternal sensitivity (95% confidence interval [0.031, 0.156]). Results suggest the intergenerational transmission of the effects of maternal childhood adversity to the offspring occurs through a two-step, serial pathway, involving maternal depression and maternal sensitivity.
Prenatal adversity shapes child neurodevelopment and risk for later mental health problems. The quality of the early care environment can buffer some of the negative effects of prenatal adversity on child development. Retrospective studies, in adult samples, highlight epigenetic modifications as sentinel markers of the quality of the early care environment; however, comparable data from pediatric cohorts are lacking. Participants were drawn from the Maternal Adversity Vulnerability and Neurodevelopment (MAVAN) study, a longitudinal cohort with measures of infant attachment, infant development, and child mental health. Children provided buccal epithelial samples (mean age = 6.99, SD = 1.33 years, n = 226), which were used for analyses of genome-wide DNA methylation and genetic variation. We used a series of linear models to describe the association between infant attachment and (a) measures of child outcome and (b) DNA methylation across the genome. Paired genetic data was used to determine the genetic contribution to DNA methylation at attachment-associated sites. Infant attachment style was associated with infant cognitive development (Mental Development Index) and behavior (Behavior Rating Scale) assessed with the Bayley Scales of Infant Development at 36 months. Infant attachment style moderated the effects of prenatal adversity on Behavior Rating Scale scores at 36 months. Infant attachment was also significantly associated with a principal component that accounted for 11.9% of the variation in genome-wide DNA methylation. These effects were most apparent when comparing children with a secure versus a disorganized attachment style and most pronounced in females. The availability of paired genetic data revealed that DNA methylation at approximately half of all infant attachment-associated sites was best explained by considering both infant attachment and child genetic variation. This study provides further evidence that infant attachment can buffer some of the negative effects of early adversity on measures of infant behavior. We also highlight the interplay between infant attachment and child genotype in shaping variation in DNA methylation. Such findings provide preliminary evidence for a molecular signature of infant attachment and may help inform attachment-focused early intervention programs.
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