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.

Follow him at @PediPsych and like PediPsych on Facebook.

Recent Posts in ABCs of Child Psychiatry

Trends in Youth Psychiatric Treatment: The Plot Thickens

Severe youth psychiatric disorders decreasing while overall treatment rates rise

Positive Psychiatry: The Next Chapter for an Evolving Field

The case for psychiatry to focus on the full spectrum of mental health

ADHD as a Continuum, Inside and Out

A recent study sheds new light on the ADHD diagnosis controversy

Using Time-Outs: Top 5 Mistakes Parents Make

Avoid these common time-out traps before concluding the method doesn’t work

Parental Warmth: Simple, Powerful, and Often Challenging

Thoughts on one of the most important but least discussed aspects of parenting.

The Backlash Against Psychiatric Diagnoses

Why bad things can cause real diagnoses, except in psychiatry