Kids whose mums are suffering from depression are less likely to develop behavioural problems themselves if their dads play an active role in family life.
The finding is based on a study conducted by a Saint Louis University researcher.
It has been previously found that kids with depressed mothers are at increased risk of developing problems such as aggression, hyperactivity, depression and anxiety. However, an involved father - one who has a positive relationship with his children - may reduce the risk of those behaviours.
It is the first to examine a father's role in a household with a depressed mother.
"My study corroborates findings from previous research that a child is at increased risk of problem behaviors when the mother is depressed," said Dr Chang.
"Once we factored in a father's positive involvement, I observed that the adverse impact of the mother's depression was attenuated. The father served as a buffer. He may have engaged with the children when the mother wasn't available due to her illness," she said.
The level of a father's involvement was based on questions given to children age 10 and older. Investigators asked the children how often their father talked over important decisions with them; whether he listened to their side of an argument; whether he knew where they were when not at home; whether their father missed events or activities that were important to them; and how close they felt to their father.
For her study, Dr Chang drew on data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY), an ongoing government-funded study of ethnically and economically diverse men and women and their labour market experiences.
The NLSY contains detailed information about the biological children of these men and women, including each child's behavioural and social functioning. Chang's sample included 6,552 mother/child pairs. Child behaviour problems were assessed every two years.
The study is published in the July issue of the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.