We've long known 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 adults than they do with parents. As such, it seems logical to check if emotional-behavioral symptoms in teachers might be related to a child's behavior both at school and overall. A recent study did just that.
The study examined 761 3-year-old children and their mothers (mainly from disadvantaged backgrounds) along with their preschool teachers. While teachers were not formally diagnosed or evaluated, they did report on their own depressive symptoms using a short rating scale. Child behavior, meanwhile, was assessed by both parents and teachers using well accepted questionnaires. The study authors examined the link between the level of a teacher's depressed mood and the level of different types of behavioral problems. They also tested the possibility that any association found might be working through (i.e. mediated) an overall lower quality of the school environment, as measured through observer ratings.
The results depended a bit on who rated the child's behavior. When child behavior was assessed by teachers, their self-reported depression score was related to child problems of many types. Some but not all of this association could be explained through a slighly lower classroom quality. When child behavior was assessed by parents, however, a link was only found between teacher mood and a child's level of internalizing problems (things like depressive and anxious behavior). While statistically significant, the magnitude of the effects were on the small side.
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 mechanisms 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 a child's educational environment.
As a sidenote, some people might also be interested in how depressed the teachers actually were. This was not focused upon in the paper other than reporting that the average score was 8 on a depression scale that went from 0 to 18.
@copyright by David Rettew, MD
David Rettew is author of Child Temperament: New Thinking About the Boundary Between Traits and Illness and a child psychiatrist in the psychiatry and pediatrics departments at the University of Vermont College of Medicine.