Although research on the relationship between parent and child mental health is growing, the impact of early parenting stress on preschool-aged children’s mental health remains unclear. The objective was to evaluate the association between parenting stress during infancy and mental health problems in 3-year-old children.
A prospective cohort study of healthy preschool-aged children recruited from 9 primary care practices in Toronto, Canada was conducted through the TARGet Kids! primary care practice-based research network. Parenting stress was measured when children were between 0 to 16 months of age, using the Parent Stress Index Short Form, PSI-SF. Parent-reported child mental health problems were measured at 36 to 47 months using the preschool Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire, total difficulties score (TDS). Hierarchical linear regression analysis was used to investigate the association between standardized PSI-SF and TDS, adjusted for child age, sex, temperament, sleep duration and household income. To strengthen clinical interpretation, analysis was repeated using adjusted multivariable logistic regression (TDS dichotomized at top 20%).
A total of 148 children (mean ± SD age, 37.2 ± 1.7 months, 49% male) were included in the analysis. Parenting stress during infancy (11.4 ± 3.1 months of age) was significantly associated with mental health problems in 3-year-old children (β = 0.35; 95% CI = 0.20–0.49,
p< 0.001). Higher parenting stress was also associated with increased odds of higher TDS (OR = 2.26, 95% CI = 1.69–2.83, p< 0.01). Conclusion
Healthy preschool-aged children with parents reporting parenting stress during infancy had a 2 times higher odds of mental health problems at 3 years.