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"Fathers' emotions affect their children," study author Sheehan Fisher, an instructor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, said in a university news release.
Researchers looked at 200 couples with 3-year-olds and found that depression in either the mother or father during the first years of parenting increased a toddler's risk of anxiety, sadness, hitting and lying.
Previous studies have focused mostly on mothers with depression during their children's early years.
"New fathers should be screened and treated for postpartum depression, just as we do for mothers," added Fisher, who conducted the study while at the University of Iowa.
Though the study only found an association between parents' moods and toddlers' behavior, parents who are depressed may not make as much eye contact or smile as much as those without depression. The more disengaged parents are from a child, the greater the child's difficulty in forming close attachments and healthy emotions, Fisher explained.
"Depression affects the way people express emotions, and it can cause their behavior to change," he said.
"Early intervention for both mothers and fathers is the key," Fisher said. "If we can catch parents with depression earlier and treat them, then there won't be a continuation of symptoms, and, maybe even as importantly, their child won't be affected by a parent with depression."
The study was published online recently in the journal Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice.
-- Robert Preidt
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