The present study examined parent factors that relate to child psychopathology, focusing particularly on overprotective parenting behaviors and parents’ symptoms of depression and stress. As the empirical literature has long focused on mothers only, findings from this current study will contribute to our knowledge on parenting and parent psychopathology in fathers.
The sample in this study consisted of 190 children referred to child community clinics and their mothers and fathers. Parents reported on their own and their child’s symptoms, as well as on their parenting behaviors on various questionnaires. Child depressive symptoms were also assessed via self-report. Child diagnoses were set by clinicians based on diagnostic interviews with parents and children.
Although theoretical models emphasize the role of overprotective parenting in the development and maintenance of child anxiety, we lack empirical knowledge on whether overprotective parenting is uniquely related to child anxiety or rather to child psychopathology in general. Results from the current study showed that significant relationships between maternal and paternal overprotective parenting and child anxiety disappear when controlling for co-occurring child behavior problems, indicating that the relationship between overprotection and child anxiety may be explained, in part, by shared associations with child behavior problems. Results from this study suggest that overprotective parenting is not uniquely related to child anxiety problems, and that co-occurring child behavior problems need to be considered when examining those parenting behaviors.
Following a specific theoretical model, the current study also tested whether maternal and paternal depressive symptoms interact in their relationship to child depressive symptoms. Empirical findings on such interaction effects are limited. Significant interaction effects between maternal and paternal depression on child depressive symptoms were found for mother- and father-reported child symptoms. Where fathers reported few depressive symptoms for themselves, no relationship was found between mothers’ and children’s depressive symptoms. The relationship between mother and child strengthened with increasing depressive symptoms in fathers. Results from this study suggest that maternal and paternal depressive symptoms interact in their relationship to child depressive symptoms, and that fathers’ depressive symptoms may be considered as a moderator in the relationship between symptoms in mother and child.
Finally, as previous studies have predominantly focused on stress in parents in the context of child behavior problems, the current study examined relationships between stress in parents and child behavior as well as anxiety, depressive, somatic and social problems. In addition, contributing to the limited knowledge on unique effects, the current study also tested which child symptoms were uniquely related to stress in parents, when controlling for parents’ psychopathology, marital status, income and co-occurring child symptoms. Results from this study suggest that stress in mothers is uniquely related to child social problems, but not to child externalizing or internalizing symptoms.