Children whose mothers are depressed are at risk for a range of difficulties in childhood and adolescence, including emotional and behavioral problems, attachment and academic difficulties, and problems in self-regulation, peer relationships, and sleep regulation (see reviews by Cummings & Davies, 1994; Downey & Coyne, 1990; Goodman & Gotlib, 1999; Herring & Kaslow, 2002; Teti, Gelfand, & Pompa, 1990). In this chapter, we focus specifically on the association between mothers' anxious, depressed symptoms and children's emotional problems (e.g., anxious, depressed behavior, also called internalizing problems) and behavioral problems (e.g., aggressive, disruptive, undercontrolled behavior, also called externalizing problems). We refer to emotional and behavioral problems, collectively, as “problem behaviors.” The mechanisms by which mothers' depression has been hypothesized to influence children's problem behaviors include genetic transmission of risk for psychopathology, neurodevelopmental insult in the prenatal or perinatal periods, difficulties in parent–child interaction, and social stressors that may impinge on parent and child functioning alike (Goodman & Gotlib, 1999).
These hypotheses about the association between maternal depression and children's outcomes assume that maternal depression plays a causal role in the development of children's problem behaviors. However, relatively little research has considered the possibility that children's problem behaviors may be implicated in the etiology or maintenance of a mothers' depression, even though a sizeable body of literature exists to show how parents' behavior often changes in response to their children (Anderson, Lytton, & Romney, 1986; Bell & Harper, 1977; Bell & Chapman, 1986; Brunk & Henggeler, 1984; Buss, 1981; Grusec & Kuczynski, 1980; Lytton, 1990; Mink & Nihira, 1986; Patterson, Reid, & Dishion, 1992; Yarrow, Waxler, & Scott, 1971).