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Enhancing Emotional Development to Treat Child Depression

Washington University School of Medicine recently completed a study targeting early childhood depression and the effectiveness of a psychotherapeutic intervention called PCIT-ED that helps parents help their children.

The result? The therapy worked. Children who went through 18 weeks of parent-child interaction therapy with a new “emotion development” module showed an improvement in their cognitive functioning, emotional regulation, and overall fewer of the signs and symptoms that accompany depression.

Perhaps the most fascinating part of all this was the fact that researchers studied not only results for the participating children ages 3 to 6 who suffer from depression but their parents as well.


Mom Amanda Hanks reads to her three children, playing a game designed to improve children's emotional intelligence.

St. Louis mom Amanda Hanks reads to her three children. Photo by Manda Renee Photography

The study monitored 229 parent-child pairs, measuring in part parents coping mechanisms, levels of stress, and the strategies they used to respond to their child's negative emotions. 

Over the course of the 18-week study, researchers found that parental stress levels decreased, and their ability to support their children in expressing their feelings increased.

In the words of the lead author of the study, Dr. Joan Luby “The study provides very promising evidence that an early and brief psychotherapeutic intervention that focuses on the parent-child relationship and on enhancing emotion development may be a powerful and low-risk approach to the treatment of depression.”

For us here at Generation Mindful, the findings of this study fuel our mission to connect the generations by fostering emotional intelligence (EQ) playfully. 

Research shows that play helps to stir up neuron activity in the prefrontal cortex - an area of the brain that plays a vital role in regulating emotions. 

Dr. Sergio Pellis from the University of Lethbridge emphasizes the benefits of play for young children by saying “Play prepares young brains for life”.

To support parents and early childhood educators in teaching children about emotions, Generation Mindful developed the Time-In-Toolkit and the PeaceMakers mindfulness card game.


Poster from the Time-In ToolKit

Poster from the Time-In ToolKit. Photo by Manda Renee Photography

GEN:M's newest line to launch on Kickstarter is SnuggleBuddies, a plush toy collection that teaches children how to name their feelings using plush mood emojis to represent children's feelings.


plush toy collection that teaches children how to name their feelings

Mauve, age 6, with her SnuggleBuddies. Photo by Manda Renee Photography

Concerns about depression in young children and adolescents have been taken more seriously over the past two decades, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). 

If you are concerned your child might be suffering from depression, here are some resources to support you:

Above all, remember that you are enough. Life can be challenging and so too is parenting, but as this recent study on the positive effects parents can have on their children shows, with tools and support, we can make a difference.


Generation Mindful creates tools, toys, and programs that nurture emotional intelligence through play and positive discipline. Join us and receive joy in your inbox each week.

Time-in Toolkit in action