Parental depressive symptoms, parent–child dyadic behavioral variability, and child dysregulation.

Erika Lunkenheimer, Amanda M. Skoranski, Frances M. Lobo, Kathleen E. Wendt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Parental depressive symptoms are associated with greater variability and inconsistency in parenting behavior as well as children’s emotional and behavioral dysregulation. The present study explored whether such relations extended to dyadic processes, examining whether maternal and paternal depressive symptoms at child age 3½ interacted with concurrent higher dyadic behavioral variability (DBV) in mother–child free play to heighten children’s emotional and behavioral dysregulation at age 4 (N = 100). Child dysregulation was measured as mother-reported emotional lability–negativity and externalizing problems, and DBV was measured as the number of transitions among dyadic behavioral states using state space grids. Parent behaviors included parent directives, positive reinforcement, and disengagement, and child behaviors included child compliance, persistence, and noncompliance, among others. Analyses also accounted for the degree of positive (compared to negative) behavioral content. Moderation analyses showed that DBV predicted greater child dysregulation only when maternal or paternal depressive symptoms were higher. Further, DBV was detrimental only when dyadic positive interaction content was low. Findings suggest DBV combined with low positive content in parent–child interactions is a particular risk factor for children’s regulatory development. Fostering positive, predictable interaction patterns may be an important target for family interventions with a depressed parent.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Family Psychology
StatePublished - 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Psychology


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