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.