Parent-child bonding and family functioning in depressed children and children at high risk and low risk for future depression

Daniel Stein, Douglas E. Williamson, Boris Birmaher, David A. Brent, Joan Kaufman, Ronald E. Dahl, James M. Perel, Neal D. Ryan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

86 Scopus citations


Objective: To evaluate parent-child bonding and familial functioning in depressed children, children at high risk for depression, and low-risk controls. Method: Diagnoses of children and their relatives were obtained via structured interviews with all available informants. Depressed children (n = 54) received a diagnosis of current major depressive disorder (MDD). The high-risk children (n = 21) had no lifetime diagnoses of mood disorders, but at least one first-degree relative with a lifetime history of depression. The low-risk controls (n = 23) had no lifetime psychiatric disorders and no first-degree relative with a lifetime history of mood disorders. Parent-child bonding was evaluated with the child's report on the Parental Bonding Instrument (PBI). Familial functioning was evaluated with each parent answering the Family Assessment Device (FAD). Results: Significant differences were found between the MDD and low-risk children on most parameters of the PBI and FAD. The children with MDD reported significantly elevated maternal overprotection, and their fathers scored significantly lower on the FAD scales of Behavioral Control and General Functioning, compared with the high-risk children. Mothers of high-risk children had significantly lower scores on the Roles and Affective Involvement dimensions of the FAD compared with mothers of low-risk children. Current maternal depression had a deleterious effect on the child's perception of maternal protection and paternal care, mother's report on all FAD scales, and father's report on most FAD scales, whether interacting with the child's depression or existing even if the child was not depressed. Conclusion: Maternal depression and its interaction with the child's depression appear to have negative consequences for parent-child bonding and family functioning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1387-1395
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Issue number11
StatePublished - 2000


  • Depression
  • Family functioning
  • Parental bonding

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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