Development and Psychopathology

Research Article

Preschool children at social risk: Chronicity and timing of maternal depressive symptoms and child behavior problems at school and at home

Lisbeth Alperna1 and Karlen Lyons-Rutha2 c1

a1 Boston University

a2 Harvard Medical School


The current study investigated the relationship between previous, recent, or chronic maternal depressive symptoms and subtypes of child behavior problems rated by teachers and mothers among 64 low-income children aged 4–6 years. Sixty-nine percent of mothers with high depressive symptom levels at the preschool assessment had also reported high symptom levels during the child's infancy. Children whose mothers reported depressive symptoms at both ages exhibited significantly elevated rates of hostile behavior problems in the classroom and at home compared to children of never-depressed mothers. Children of mothers who were previously but not currently depressed showed significantly more anxious and withdrawn behavior at school and at home, while children of recently depressed mothers were more hyperactive and demanding. Child cognitive scores and father absence were also related to behavior problems, but these variables did not mediate the independent effects of chronicity and timing of maternal depressive symptoms on the types of child symptoms displayed.


c1 Address reprint requests to: K. Lyons-Ruth, Department of Psychiatry, Cambridge Hospital, 1493 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA 02139.