Effortful Control Moderates Bidirectional Effects Between Children's Externalizing Behavior and Their Mothers' Depressive Symptoms


  • This research was supported by a grant awarded to Sheryl Olson and Arnold Sameroff from the National Institute of Mental Health (RO1MH57489). A version of this paper was presented in the symposium, Contributions of Temperament and Stress to Child Psychosocial Adjustment, at the 2011 biennial meeting of the Society for Research on Child Development in Montréal, Canada. We thank the Collaborative for the Analysis of Pathways from Childhood to Adulthood. We are appreciative of the mothers, children, and teachers who participated in our longitudinal study and the many people who assisted in data collection and coding.

  • During his dissertation study, Daniel Choe was a predoctoral fellow of the International Max Planck Research School on the Life Course (LIFE, www.imprs-life.mpg.de; participating institutions: MPI for Human Development, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Freie Universität Berlin, University of Michigan, University of Virginia, University of Zürich).


This study examined bidirectional associations between mothers' depressive symptoms and children's externalizing behavior and whether they were moderated by preschool-age effortful control and gender. Mothers and teachers reported on 224 primarily White, middle-class children at ages 3, 5, and 10. Effortful control was assessed via behavioral battery and mother ratings. Structural equation modeling indicated that maternal depressive symptoms at child age 3 predicted more externalizing behavior at age 10 among children with low effortful control and among boys. Externalizing behavior at age 3 predicted fewer depressive symptoms at the age 10 assessments among mothers of children with high effortful control. Boys with suboptimal self-regulation exposed to high levels of maternal depressive symptoms were at greatest risk for school-age behavioral problems.