Methods: Data came from the Early Growth and Development Study, a longitudinal parent-offspring adoption sample (N= 561), which includes birth parents, adoptive parents, and adopted children followed longitudinally since infancy. Genetic influences were indexed by birth mother depressive symptoms on the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) at 9 and 18 months. Adoptive parent depressive symptoms were assessed with the BDI and their parenting behaviors were assessed at 27 months with the IOWA warmth and hostility subscales. Prenatal distress was assessed using a subset of items from the BDI and Beck Anxiety Inventory focused on the pregnancy period. Child social competence was assessed with both adoptive parent’s reports using the Social Skills Rating System at 4.5 years old.
Results: Results showed that there were unique genetic and environmental influences of parental depressive symptoms on child social competence. Specifically, birth mother depressive symptoms were associated with lower social competence (B = -.11, p< .05) and prenatal distress (B= .43, p< .05). However, prenatal distress was not associated with child social competence at 4.5 years (B= .05, p> .05). Adoptive mother depressive symptoms were associated with lower child social competence (B= -.14, p< .05), but not adoptive father’s (B= -.05, p> .05). Adoptive mother hostility (B= -.11, p< .05), but not adoptive fathers’ (B= -.04, p> .05), was inversely associated with child social competence. Adoptive father warmth (B= .13, p< .05), but not adoptive mothers’ (B= .07, p> .05), was positively associated with social competence. Indirect effects were found for adoptive mother depressive symptoms on lower social competence through maternal hostility, while adoptive father depressive symptoms had an indirect effect on social competence through low warmth.
Conclusion: These findings demonstrate the importance of applying genetically-informed designs to address confounds of genetic similarity to understand how children’s behaviors develop.