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Open Access Research

Depressive symptoms from kindergarten to early school age: longitudinal associations with social skills deficits and peer victimization

Sonja Perren1* and Françoise D Alsaker2

Author Affiliations

1 Jacobs Center for Productive Youth Development, University of Zürich, Culmannstrasse 1, 8001 Zürich, Switzerland

2 Department of Psychology, University of Berne, Muesmattstrasse 45, 3000 Bern 9, Switzerland

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Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health 2009, 3:28  doi:10.1186/1753-2000-3-28

Published: 21 September 2009

Abstract

Background

Depressive symptoms in children are associated with social skills deficits and problems with peers. We propose a model which suggests different mechanisms for the impact of deficits in self-oriented social skills (assertiveness and social participation) and other-oriented social skills (pro-social, cooperative and non-aggressive behaviors) on children's depressive symptoms. We hypothesized that deficits in self-oriented social skills have a direct impact on children's depressive symptoms because these children have non-rewarding interactions with peers, whereas the impact of deficits in other-oriented social skills on depressive symptoms is mediated through negative reactions from peers such as peer victimization.

Method

378 kindergarten children (163 girls) participated at two assessments (Age at T1: M = 5.8, T2: M = 7.4). Teachers completed questionnaires on children's social skills at T1. Teacher reports on peer victimization and depressive symptoms were assessed at both assessment points.

Results

Our study partially confirmed the suggested conceptual model. Deficits in self-oriented social skills significantly predicted depressive symptoms, whereas deficits in other-oriented social skills were more strongly associated with peer victimization. Longitudinal associations between other-oriented social skills and depressive symptoms were mediated through peer victimization.

Conclusion

The study emphasizes the role of deficits in self-oriented social skills and peer victimization for the development of internalizing disorders.