Maternal Depression, Negative Parenting Practices, and Child Oppositional-Aggression: Bidirectional Influences over Time

Open Access
Mathis, Erin Theresa Barbato
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
August 14, 2015
Committee Members:
  • Karen Linn Bierman, Dissertation Advisor/Co-Advisor
  • Karen Linn Bierman, Committee Chair/Co-Chair
  • Ginger A Moore, Committee Member
  • Kristin Buss, Committee Member
  • Janet Agnes Welsh, Outside Member
  • maternal depression
  • parenting
  • parenting practices
  • aggression
  • oppositional
  • longitudinal
  • bidirectional
Maternal depression is elevated in adverse family contexts, particularly when children exhibit challenging oppositional and aggressive behaviors, perhaps because depressive symptoms can undermine effective parenting and increase harsh and critical parental responding. However, reverse effects are rarely studied longitudinally. This study sought to better understand bidirectional child and parenting influences on maternal depression, using rigorous longitudinal methods. Participants were children and their mothers from the normative sample of the Fast Track Project (n = 388). Data was collected annually over three years when children were in kindergarten, first grade, and second grade, providing three time-points used for this study. The bidirectional influences between the three constructs (maternal depression, negative parenting practices, and child oppositional-aggression) were tested with a three-level cross-lagged path model exploring bi-directional influences among the constructs over three time points. A cross-lagged path model and bootstrapping procedure was used, to determine whether parenting practices mediated the association between maternal depression (in kindergarten and first grade) and subsequent child oppositional-aggression (in first grade and second grade). Analyses were also conducted to test for invariance across gender. Consistent with prior research, maternal depression led to increases over time in negative parenting practices and child oppositional-aggression. Importantly, bidirectional effects also emerged, as negative parenting practices and child oppositional-aggression both exacerbated maternal depression over time. In addition, although some of the impact of maternal depression on child oppositional-aggression was mediated through negative parenting, maternal depression also retained a direct influence on child behavior. These findings add to the existing literature by demonstrating the complex transactions that occur in high-risk families, with child behavior and parenting experiences affecting maternal depression, as well as the reverse. Attending to the affective experiences of mothers, particularly feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, may be critical to fully characterize the developmental course of child oppositional-aggressive behaviors, and to inform the design of effective interventions.