Preschoolers' response to maternal sadness: Relationships with maternal depression and emotional availability

Karen A. Frankel, Kristin Lindahl, Robert J. Harmon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Previous research has documented that children of depressed mothers are at risk for a variety of emotional/behavioral problems and impairments in mother‐child interaction. Depressed mothers have been characterized as withdrawn and unavailable. The present study examined behavior of preschool children of depressed and nondepressed mothers in response to their mothers' feigned sadness. The study assessed maternal depression and maternal emotional availability to determine how these related to preschoolers' expression of empathy. Sixty‐two mothers and their 3 1/2‐year‐olds participated in the study. Mother‐child interaction was coded from four tasks: free play, eating a snack, problem solving, and sadness simulation. Children of depressed mothers were not less empathic than children of nondepressed mothers. However, the mother's mood on day of testing related to child response. Maternal emotional availability interacted with the credibility/intensity of her simulation of sadness to predict child empathy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)132-146
Number of pages15
JournalInfant Mental Health Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1992
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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