Traumatic Events and Associated Symptoms amongst Caregiver-Child Dyads: Exploring Caregiver Sex Differences

Abstract

The psychological consequences of traumatic events for caregivers and their children have been extensively studied, with the majority of literature considering maternal influences. We aimed to compare these associations across caregiver sex in order to provide deeper insight into paternal influences. The indirect association between caregiver exposure to traumatic events (# of types) and child symptomatology (posttraumatic stress symptoms [PTSS] and socioemotional problems) was considered via three pathways: (a) child exposure to traumatic events (# of types), (b) caregiver symptomatology (depressive symptoms and PTSS) and (c) caregiving stress. Participants were caregiver-child dyads referred to an outpatient hospital clinic for treatment of PTSS amongst children aged zero to five (N = 222, 28% male caregivers). Male caregivers reported lower scores on all variables (d= 0.32–0.67) despite there being no caregiver sex differences in number of events experienced by children. Multi-group path analysis revealed that relationships amongst study variables were similar for male and female caregivers, with the exception of caregiver stress and symptoms. There was no relationship between number of events experienced by caregivers and caregiver stress for males, β = −0.07 (SE = 0.08), p = 0.356, though there was for females, β = 0.15 (SE = 0.07), p= 0.021. Additionally, the relationship between number of events and symptomatology was weaker (though still significant) for male caregivers, β = 0.27 (SE = 0.09), p = 0.005, compared to females, β = 0.38 (SE = 0.06), p < 0.001. Findings suggest that male and female caregivers may present differently at assessments in terms of risk levels, though the associations amongst clinically relevant variables are mostly similar.

Highlights

  • Examined the relationship between caregiver trauma and child symptomatology, with the inclusion of fathers.

  • Number of caregiver traumatic events indirectly influenced child trauma symptoms.

  • Male caregivers reported less risk compared to female caregivers.

  • Number of traumatic events in children did not differ across caregiver sex.

  • Caregiver sex differences in pathways were observed in relation to caregiver stress and symptomatology.

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Browne, D.T., May, S. & Lieberman, A. Traumatic Events and Associated Symptoms amongst Caregiver-Child Dyads: Exploring Caregiver Sex Differences. J Child Fam Stud 29, 2155–2168 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-020-01748-8

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Keywords

  • Early childhood
  • Trauma
  • Post-traumatic stress
  • Depression
  • Caregiver stress