To characterize the perceptions of self, mother and family of prepubertal children and to determine if the perceptions of children with depression and their behavior towards their mothers are different from children with anxiety disorders and nonpsychiatric controls.
Children (aged 7–13 years) with major depressive disorder (n = 30), anxiety disorders (n = 37) and nonpsychiatric controls (n = 32) underwent structured psychiatric evaluations and completed questionnaires on their perceptions of themselves and their relations with their mothers and families. The child–mother dyad was observed during structured interactions.
Self–perceptions of depressed children were significantly more negative than those of children with anxiety and controls. Depression severity negatively correlated with the child's self–perception and positively correlated with perceptions of the mother as being more rejecting, controlling, less accepting and less allowing autonomy, and of the family as being less cohesive. Depression severity was also positively associated with the child's hostile attitude towards the mother during the interactions.
Our findings of greater negative perceptions of self, mother and family in depressed children compared to children with anxiety disorders and nonpsychiatric children suggest that approaches specifically addressing negative perceptions and targeting familial relationships could be especially effective for treating young children with depression.