Teacher Depressive Symptoms and Child Behavior

It has been widely shown at this point that psychiatric problems in parents can negatively affect child behavior, but what about teachers?  These days, many children spend as much if not more of their waking hours with teachers and other childcare providers than they do with parents.  As such, it seems logical to extend the investigation of adult emotional-behavioral symptoms affecting children beyond studies involving just Mom and Dad.  A recent study  by Jeon and colleagues, published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, did just that.Teacher

The data come from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study in which 761 3-year-old children and their mothers (mainly from disadvantaged backgrounds) were assessed along with their preschool teachers.  While teachers were not formally diagnosed or evaluated, they did report on their own mood using a short 6-item version of the Johns Hopkins Symptom Checklist.  Child behavior, meanwhile,  was assessed with our favorite instruments, namely the Teacher Report Form (teacher report) and Child Behavior Checklist (parent report). Path analyses were used to examine the link between teacher depressed mood and child internalizing and externalizing problems, and to test the possibility that any association is mediated through a lower quality of childcare as measured through observer ratings.

The results depended a bit on who rated the child’s behavior.  When child behavior was assessed by teachers, a teacher’s self-reported depression score was both directly related to child internalizing and externalizing problems and indirectly related through a reduced quality of childcare. When child behavior was assessed by parents, however, only a direct significant association was found between teacher mood and child level of internalizing problems. While statistically significant, the magnitude of the effects were not overwhelming.  For example, the raw correlation between teacher depression score and childcare quality was a fairly meager -.12.   

The authors concluded that there was some evidence that depressive symptoms in teachers can be related to child behavior problems both through lower quality of childcare and through other means yet to be determined. They advocated for additional efforts to support the psychological well-being of teachers, both for its own sake and as a means to optimize the quality of childcare.

One important sidenote not addressed by the authors is that this study, in my view, strengthens the argument that parental mental health really does affect a child’s behavior because by looking at teacher effects, they remove the potential confound of shared genes that can muddy the waters in studies with parents.  Some people might also be interested in how depressed the teachers actually were.  Again, this was not focused upon in the paper other  than reporting that their mean score was 8 on a scale that went from 0 to 18.


Jeon L, et al. Pathways From Teacher Depression and Child-Care Quality to Child Behavioral Problems.  J Consult Clin Psychology 2014;82(2):225-235.


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One Response to “Teacher Depressive Symptoms and Child Behavior”

  1. Medscape says:


    » Teacher Depressive Symptoms and Child Behavior : Home – Child Mental Health Blog : University of Vermont

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