Clinical Science Brown Bag: Early Childhood Precursors of Gender Differences in Depressive Symptoms: Integrating contributions of child emotion regulation and maternal risk factors

Katherine Blumstein, Clinical Science Doctoral Student

The main goal of this study was to examine early social and developmental precursors of gender differences in children’s later depressive symptoms. Girls show higher levels of depressive symptoms than boys as early as the
preadolescent period, and these differences persist across the lifespan. However, relatively little is known about risk factors in early childhood that predict later gender differences in depressive symptoms. Participants were 218 3-year-old boys and girls who were reassessed during the late school-age years (age 10-11). Our predictive model integrated constructs of early emotion regulation and maternal distress as predictors of children’s later depressive symptoms. At age 3 years, we assessed child emotion regulation as well as maternal distress using behavioral measures and parent reports, in addition to home visits and laboratory observations. Mothers and teachers contributed ratings of children’s depressive symptoms at both time points. Children’s self-regulation abilities differed significantly in terms of anger, with boys more likely to be dysregulated this way. While most young children follow a common pathway marked by low levels of symptoms, we identified an atypical trajectory – that of anger later manifesting in elevated levels of internalizing problems. We found that three-year-old children with limited capacity for/low levels of emotion regulation expressed in the form of anger were more likely to show elevated internalizing problems later in childhood. These results did not differ by gender. Likewise, for both boys and girls, maternal distress predicted later internalizing problems. Findings suggest that children’s poor emotion regulation skills are the best predictor of early onset problems, emphasizing the need for early childhood screening and intervention efforts for identified “angry” boys and girls, as well as support for mothers identified as depressed and who perceive themselves as socially isolated and non-efficacious caregivers.
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East Hall - 4464

September 2017

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9:00am - 10:00am

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