The relationship between paternal depression and its effect on a child’s language development.


Katiarina S. Rodriguez, M.S. Fabiana Bracho, M.S.

It is important to recognize the risks of negative effects parental depression may have on a child’s development and quality of life. Advances in these types of research help to support healthy child development and further identify preventive and intervention methods that may benefit families. Depression in parents has been associated with negative outcomes for children.

Depression (Major Depressive Disorder) is a mood disorder that consists of persistent feelings of sadness and loss of interest. This disorder causes a change in the way a person thinks, feels, and behaves (5th ed.; DSM-5; American Psychiatric Association [APA], 2013). Maternal depression and its effects on child outcomes have been widely researched. Studies have reported that maternal depression is a predictive factor for cognitive delays in a child. (Hughes, Roman, Hart, & Ensor, 2012).

The American Academy of Pediatrics developed a guideline with expected child milestones to help parents early identify any delays. According to AAP, a child should be producing their first words by 15 months and word combinations by 24 months. (Rudolph & Leonard, 2016). The findings of the following studies demonstrate how paternal depression negatively affects a child’s language development. 

When reviewing the literature, studies demonstrated that parental depressive symptoms predicted children’s externalizing, internalizing, and dysregulation problems, as well as language developmental delay at 18 months of age (Fredriksen, Soest, Smith, & Moe, 2018). Paternal depressive symptoms predicted decreases in reading frequency and associated relative limitations in child expressive vocabulary (Paulson, Keefe, & Leiferman, 2009). Additionally, fathers with more than high school education have children performing better in all developmental domains (cognition, language, and social & emotional development). A father’s supportiveness is also crucial for children’s cognitive and language development, social, and emotional behaviors across ages (Cabrera, Shannon, & Tamis-Lemonda, 2007).

It can be interpreted that a father’s role is an important factor in a child’s overall development. The results indicated that paternal depression does negatively impact a child’s language development. However, it is important to mention the limitations of the studies. For one, these studies do not consider the level of parental involvement and child outcomes if both parents are depressed. The more present a parent is, the more their behaviors will impact their child. Another limitation proposes that the majority of these studies did not note if the father was depressed prior to the birth of the child or if the onset of the depressive symptoms was after the birth. These limitations pose interesting factors that can be further investigated in future studies.

To conclude, this article discussed how a child’s language development can be impacted negatively by their father’s depression. We have highlighted that a father’s role is highly important in a child’s life, especially regarding their development. As PsyD doctoral students we enjoy working closely with our pediatric patients and their parents. It is important to us to impact our communities in a positive way by providing information and resources. We hope to continue contributing to the research centered around the pediatric population. Through our clinical experience, we have seen first-hand how difficult it can be for parents struggling with depression. We hope this article provides parents some insight on how their mental health may impact their child’s development as well as encourage them to seek help when need be.


American Psychiatric Association, 2013. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition. American Psychiatric Association Publishing, Washington, DC, USA. 

Fredriksen, E., Soest, T. V., Smith, L., & Moe, V. (2018). Parenting Stress Plays a Mediating Role in the Prediction of Early Child Development from Both Parents’ Perinatal Depressive Symptoms. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 47(1), 149–164. doi: 10.1007/s10802-018-0428-4

Hughes, C., Roman, G., Hart, M. J., & Ensor, R. (2012). Does maternal depression predict young children’s executive function? – a 4-year longitudinal study. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 54(2), 169–177. doi: 10.1111/jcpp.12014

Nuttall, A. K., Froyen, L. C., Skibbe, L. E., & Bowles, R. P. (2019). Maternal and Paternal Depressive Symptoms, Home Learning Environment, and Children’s Early Literacy. Child Psychiatry & Human Development, 50(4), 681–691. doi: 10.1007/s10578-019-00872-x

Paulson, J. F., Keefe, H. A., & Leiferman, J. A. (2009). Early parental depression and child language development. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 50(3), 254–262. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7610.2008.01973.x

Rudolph, J. M., & Leonard, L. B. (2016). Early Language Milestones and Specific Language Impairment. Journal of Early Intervention, 38(1), 41–58. doi: 10.1177/1053815116633861

Sethna, V., Murray, L., & Ramchandani, P. G. (2012). Depressed fathers’ speech to their 3-month-old infants: a study of cognitive and mentalizing features in paternal speech. Psychological Medicine, 42(11), 2361–2371. doi: 10.1017/s0033291712000487

Sethna, V., Perry, E., Domoney, J., Iles, J., Psychogiou, L., Rowbotham, N. E., … Ramchandani, P. G. (2017). Father-Child Interactions At 3 Months And 24 Months: Contributions to Children’s Cognitive Development At 24 Months. Infant Mental Health Journal, 38(3), 378–390. doi: 10.1002/imhj.21642

Vänskä, M., Punamäki, R.-L., Lindblom, J., Flykt, M., Tolvanen, A., Unkila-Kallio, L., … Tiitinen, A. (2017). Parental Pre- and Postpartum Mental Health Predicts Child Mental Health and Development. Family Relations, 66(3), 497–511. doi: 10.1111/fare.12260

About the Authors

My name is Fabiana; I am currently a third-year student in the PsyD program. My track is Pediatric Neuropsychology. I was born in Maracaibo, Venezuela, and raised in Miami, Florida. My aspiration is to help the pediatric population and advance the field of Neuropsychology. 

Katiarina S. Rodriguez, M.S. born and raised in Miami, FL. A doctoral student pursuing a doctorate degree in clinical psychology concentration in pediatrics. Her passion is to work with children struggling with various mental health issues.  



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