Stressed moms may neglect children

Stressed moms may neglect children

Researchers at University of Rochester in the US found that mothers with higher levels of depressive symptoms had overactive stress responses when interacting with their children.

They showed the highest levels of hostility, including derogatory comments, angry tone of voice and rough physical interaction, according to the researchers.

“Stress gets under your skin,” lead researcher Melissa Sturge-Apple, assistant professor of psychology at Rochester University, said.

“It literally changes the way a mother’s body responds to the normal demands of small children and those changes make it much harder to parent positively,” Sturge-Apple was quoted as saying by LiveScience.

Meanwhile, the researchers found that mothers living in poverty had underactive stress responses and they were more likely to ignore their children’s desire for attention or play, but when they did become engaged.

The corrosive effects of stress are no surprise, but this study’s findings highlight the physical and behavioural effects of poverty and depression, Sturge-Apple said.
“Stress is not just in our heads, it’s in our bodies.”

For the study, published in the journal Development and Psychopathology, the researchers observed 153 mothers with their 17- to 19-month-old toddlers in two situations.

Using a  wireless monitor, they tracked subtle changes in the mothers’ heart rhythms during a mildly stressful situation when her child was left with a stranger for a few minutes. The mother and the toddler were later observed together during unstructured playtime.

Mothers with depressive symptoms and hyperreactive stress responses had higher heart rate patterns to begin with, but these patterns spiked in response to their toddler’s distress.

Even after mother and child were reunited, the mother’s heart rate remained elevated.
Depression is linked to harsh, highly reactive parenting, according to Sturge-Apple.
On the other extreme, mothers living in poverty and in high-crime areas showed underactive stress responses, with heart rate patterns that started out lower and increased little when their children became upset.

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