Exploring household dynamics: the reciprocal effects of parent and child characteristics


  • Lidia Panico Institut National d’Etudes Demographiques, Paris
  • Laia Becares University of Manchester
  • Elizabeth Alice Webb University College London




reciprocal influences, family effects, parent-child effects, child development


A burgeoning line of literature has shown there are strong effects of maternal mental health on child socio-emotional development (Cummings & Davies, 1994; Downey & Coyne, 1990; Mensah & Kiernan, 2010; Smith, 2004). This literature is often based on the examination of dyadic relationships, where maternal mental health is hypothesised to have an effect on child development and well-being, and the mother-child relationship is examined in isolation of other household relationships. This may also be true in clinical practice: while family dynamics are often considered when treating children for behavioural problems or other psychological symptoms, this is often not the case when the parents are treated. However, household dynamics are complex, and other household members may have an effect both on the well-being of the mother and the child. Furthermore, children’s characteristics can also have a feedback effect on their parents’ outcomes. While the literature often concentrates on the effects of parents’ characteristics on child outcomes, the reverse might also occur. In this paper, we employ a structural equation model with crossed lagged effects, to understand the reciprocal relationships between the mother’s mental health, the child socio-emotional development, and the quality of the parental relationship. Analyses were conducted using longitudinal data from the Millennium Cohort Study, a prospective national birth cohort of children born in the UK in 2000-2001. The Millennium Cohort Study has a wealth of information on the socio-economic background of the household, and has collected data on the mother’s mental health, the quality of the parents’ relationship, and the children’s socio-emotional development. In this work we look at data relating to the pre-school age, a crucial developmental age which has often been missing from the literature.