Child care helps depressed moms' kids
June 13th, 2011
12:01 AM ET

Child care helps depressed moms' kids

Spending time in child care may help protect children of depressed moms from developing behavioral and psychological problems, according to new research in the journal Pediatrics.

Experts know that when mothers are depressed it can be difficult or challenging for them to parent and that their children often show signs of distress. Some young people act out, perhaps showing anger and aggression, others internalize their feeling taking on their mother's sadness or depression.

This new study looked at more than 400 mothers and their children in Australia, and found that at age 2, as little as half a day of child care a week appears to protect infants and toddlers from exhibiting behavioral problems at age 5.

"This is the first study that really looks at child care as a protective factor not only at the time that it [maternal depression] is going on, but also for the future," explains pediatrician Marian Earls with the American Academy of Pediatrics.

When mothers had ongoing or recurring symptoms of depression, their children were twice as likely to act out and four times as likely to be sad or depressed themselves.

"There are several ways in which child care may buffer some of the effects of maternal depression on child behavior. First, some respite from the maternal role for mothers with depression may help the mothers fulfill their parenting role when they are with their toddler," explains study author Lynne Giles, Ph.D. at the School of Population Health and Clinical Practice at the University of Adelaide in South Australia.

Other experts say this premise makes sense.

"Mom gets a break and sometimes a little bit of break gives you some energy. It's tiring parenting a child all day, and if you're depressed even more tiring," explains Nadine Kaslow, professor and vice chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Emory University.

And though the researchers were not able to grade the level of child care provided, they suggest that the time away from home helped affirm the children.

"Toddlerhood is a time when social interactions are very important developmentally. Mothers with depression may be less able to engage in social opportunities for their toddler. So child care may also help with socialization for toddlers of depressed mothers," says Giles.

"What they get, probably, is more positive role modeling, it {the child care setting] is more pleasurable, more fun. There are happy faces and more fun activities and they may be getting more positive feedback," explains Kaslow.

Also early child care programs often get parents involved, engaging them in activities and teaching them new ways to communicate and play with their child.

The researchers say children seemed to get benefits when attending formal child care, defined as from a child care center, nanny or family day care as opposed to care in the home of a relative or friend

According to the study, about a quarter of the moms with 18 months olds and one in five mothers of 3-year-olds show signs of depression.

Experts point out that the results of this study need to be replicated and that putting a toddler in child care may serve as another tool to help mothers and children alike deal with the repercussions of depression.

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