Parents holding a child
New research from the University of Louisville shows parents' relationships could have an impact on their kids' mental health.

New research from the University of Louisville Kent School of Social Work shows parents who improve their relationships could also improve their kids’ mental health. 

The results, published in the journal Children, showed a boost in kids’ mental wellbeing when their parents went through interventional education on positive relationship strategies and applied what they learned at home.

“Parents who are engaging in conflict less, and were withdrawing more from their partners during arguments… their kids were showing a decrease in mental health symptoms,” said Dr. Emma Sterrett-Hong, an associate professor, director of the Couple and Family Therapy Program and lead author on the study.

The researchers recruited 347 parents at high-risk for negative behaviors, like physical violence and abuse. The parents went through a four-week individual training program, called “Within My Reach,” which taught them healthy communication and conflict resolution.

The participants took what they learned in class, and applied it to their parenting.

“And so, they were able to communicate in healthier ways with their children and resolve conflict with their children in healthier and more productive ways,” said Dr. Becky Antle, a professor, university scholar and co-author on the study.

As a result, the children in the study showed improved scores on the Pediatric Symptoms Checklist, a 17-item survey that covers a wide range of mental health symptoms, including anxiety, depression and behavior problems.

Down the road, Antle said, the researchers may also look at how the parental relationship training affects kids in the long-term.

“We know that many people learn their relationship behaviors through the modeling of their parents,” she said. “And our hope is, by teaching these parents healthier couple relationship skills, that they’re able to model those behaviors for their children.” 

Listen to the full radio interview on UofL Today, with Mark Hebert.