Family dynamics. An exploration of parental sensitivity and depressive symptoms among mothers and fathers of toddlers

Submitted: May 22, 2021
Accepted: September 27, 2021
Published: December 20, 2021
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In studies of maternal sensitivity, the influence of mothers’ depressive symptomatology has been consistently highlighted. Additionally, the relevance of both maternal and paternal sensitive responses to children’s development has been recognized. However, literature regarding the dynamics of the mother-father-toddler triad is scarce. This is particularly true when understanding how parental sensitivity may be bidirectionally shaped by both parents’ (i.e., mothers’ and fathers’ depressive symptomatology) and children’s characteristics (i.e., age). Hence, the present study aims to describe and analyse the associations between parental depression, paternal sensitivity and children’s socioemotional difficulties and age with mothers’ sensitive responses to highlight the appropriateness of considering fathers’ depressive symptoms and sensitivity to better understand the impact of maternal depressive symptomatology on mothers’ sensitivity. The participants included 80 Chilean mother-father-child triads in which all children were between 1 and 3 years of age and presented some degree of socioemotional difficulty. The results reveal no differences in maternal and paternal sensitivity or higher depressive symptomatology in mothers than in fathers. Additionally, while mothers’ depression was significantly associated with their sensitivity, this was not the case for fathers. Paternal depressive symptomatology was associated with the mother’s depression. Finally, paternal sensitivity emerged as a mediator between maternal depressive symptoms and sensitivity. This result calls attention to the use of paternal variables to understand how maternal depression impacts mothers’ sensitivity and to thus develop appropriate interventions that expand the scope of such impacts from the dyad to the triad.

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How to Cite

Muzard, A., Olhaberry, M., Immel, N., & Moran-Kneer, J. (2021). Family dynamics. An exploration of parental sensitivity and depressive symptoms among mothers and fathers of toddlers. Research in Psychotherapy: Psychopathology, Process and Outcome, 24(3). https://doi.org/10.4081/ripppo.2021.551

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