Are You Passing Your Anxiety Problems On To Your Child?

By Carol Church, Writer, Family Album

Reviewed by Heidi Radunovich, PhD, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida

“Mom, I can’t go in there! I can’t! It’s too scary!”

“I’m going to fail the test! I just know it! Everything’s going to be ruined!”

No one wants to see his or her child suffering from a persistent problem with anxiety. Yet anxiety disorders are common among both adults and children, with an estimated 17% of Americans affected.

Parents who are affected by anxiety may worry that their children will inherit these tendencies. Research does indicate that there is a genetic component. However, scientists also suspect that anxious parents may unintentionally promote anxiety in their children through their parenting styles.

Some Anxiety Disorders May Affect Parenting More Than Others

A small 2012 study in the journal Child Psychiatry and Human Development focused on 66 parents with a variety of anxiety disorders and their children (who had no current anxiety diagnoses). Some of the parents had social anxiety disorder, which involves fear of social situations and being judged by others, and is correlated with low levels of personal warmth. The other parents had different anxiety diagnoses.

Parents and children worked together to complete brief but stressful tasks while being observed in the lab. Researchers noted parents’ levels of warmth and affection, how often parents criticized their children, and whether parents allowed children independence, or were overly controlling.

Critical Parents, Anxious Kids?

Parents with social anxiety disorder showed less warmth and affection and were more critical and doubting of their children than parents with other types of anxiety disorders. For instance, they might make comments like, “You messed it up again!” during a task where the child had to copy a design on an Etch-a-Sketch toy. SAD sufferers are often very fearful of being judged, which may cause them to be criticial of their children, whom they see as an extension of themselves.

Unfortunately, previous research suggests that parenting with low warmth and high criticism may actually lead to anxiety in children. With this in mind, moms and dads with this particular anxiety disorder may want to be especially aware of their parenting in order to avoid perpetuating the anxiety cycle.

Anxiety disorders can be effectively treated, but awareness is the key. If you suspect that someone in your family may be suffering from an anxiety disorder, speak to a physician.

Further Reading

What is Social Anxiety Disorder?

Anxiety Disorders

Treating Anxiety Disorders in Children and Adolescents


Budinger, M. C., Drazdowski, T. K., & Ginsburg, G. S. (2012). Anxiety-promoting parenting behaviors: A comparison of anxious parents with and without social anxiety disorder. Child Psychiatry and Human Development. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1007/s10578-012-0335-9

(Originally published in a slightly different form as: Church, C. (2012). Anxious parents may create anxious children. [Radio broadcast episode]. Family Album Radio. Gainesville, FL: University of Florida.)

Photo Credits: Brian McEntire/iStock/Thinkstock


Posted: March 12, 2015

Category: Relationships & Family, Work & Life
Tags: Health And Wellness, Mental Health, Parenting

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