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Parenting practices in middle childhood mediate the relation between growing up with a parent having bipolar disorder and offspring psychopathology from childhood into early adulthood

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 September 2017

Vanessa Iacono
Concordia University, Montréal
Leah Beaulieu
Concordia University, Montréal
Sheilagh Hodgins
Université de Montréal Karolinska Institute, Stockholm
Mark A. Ellenbogen*
Concordia University, Montréal
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Mark A. Ellenbogen, Centre for Research in Human Development, Concordia University, 7141 Sherbrooke Street West, Montréal, Québec H4B 1R6, Canada; E-mail:


The offspring of parents with bipolar disorder (OBD) are at high risk for developing mental disorders. In addition to genetic factors, environmental risk is purported to be associated with these negative outcomes. However, few studies have examined this relation. Using concurrent and longitudinal data, we examined if support, structure, and control provided by parents in middle childhood mediated the relation between having a parent with or without bipolar disorder, and offspring mental health. The sample included 145 offspring (77 OBD, 68 controls) aged 4 to 14 years and their parents. Parent and teacher ratings of child behavior were collected, and diagnostic assessments were conducted in offspring 12 years later (n = 101). Bootstrapping analyses showed that low levels of structure mediated the relation between having a parent with bipolar disorder and elevated internalizing and externalizing difficulties during middle childhood. For the longitudinal outcomes, parental control emerged as the strongest mediator of the relation between parents’ bipolar disorder and offspring psychopathology. Suboptimal childrearing may have different immediate and enduring consequences on mental health outcomes in the OBD. Parental structure has robust effects on emotional and behavioral problems in middle childhood, while levels of control promote psychological adjustment in the OBD as they mature.

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This research was supported by a grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (to M.A.E.). Dr. Ellenbogen was supported by a Canada Research Chair appointment from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Ms. Iacono was supported by a Canadian Graduate Scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). We thank Dr. Sophie Coté and Leandra Hallis for their invaluable assistance on this project and all of the families for so graciously taking the time to participate in our research.


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