Early Parenting Predicts Cognitive Risk for Depression in Children


Negative cognitions are important in the etiology and maintenance of depression and can be observed in children as young as preschool age. However, little work has prospectively examined precursors of children’s negative cognitive styles. The current study examined the effects of early childhood negative and positive parenting on children’s later negative and positive self- referent verbalizations, as indicators of their cognitive styles. Participants included 173 children who were assessed in early childhood (Wave 1 age; M= 4.19 years, SD=.81) and again three years later (Wave 2 age; M= 6.80 years, SD=.97). Parenting was assessed using a parent-child observational task at Waves 1 and 2; children’s verbalizations were assessed during frustration-inducing laboratory tasks at Waves 1 and 2. Results indicated that greater early childhood intrusive parenting predicted children’s later use of fewer positive self-referent verbalizations. In addition, greater early childhood parental support predicted children’s later use of greater positive self-referent verbalizations. Results highlight the importance of parental behavior on how a child thinks about themselves and how their cognitive styles may lead to increased risk for depression. These findings suggest that early interventions targeting parenting may lead to reductions in children’s cognitive styles that incur risk for later depression.


Senior Honors Defense in the Psychology Department at the University of Maryland