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October 2003
ANXIOUS PARENTS CREATE ANXIOUS CHILDREN
By Joyce Parker, Ph.D.

The question of how anxiety is transmitted from parents to children was studied in a research paper by Janet Woodruff-Borden in the winter 2002 issue of Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology and reported in the September/October issue of The Psychotherapy Networker. 25 Parents diagnosed with an anxiety disorder were videotaped working on tasks with their 6 to 12 years old children. 25 parents without the anxiety diagnosis and their children were observed as a control group. The tasks were too complex to accomplish in the time allotted. The parents were encouraged to help their children in whatever ways they wished. During the task, anxious parents were less likely to engage their children in productive ways and they remained more aloof than the control group parents did. The anxious parents agreed less with their children, praised them less and ignored them more. Anxious parents also moved from being aloof to over controlling when the children exhibited anxiety or frustration. They were more concerned with repressing the anxiety than teaching children who to manage it. Since children with parents who have anxiety disorders are seven times more likely than other children to have such a disorder themselves, understanding the intergenerational transmission is important. Of course, there is probably some genetic predisposition, but how the parent regulates their own anxiety has a profound effect on how competent the parent is in helping their child regulate anxiety. As described in Glen Peters’ Ph.D. Article of the Month, "Fostering Emotional Development", parents probably need to understand the origins of their anxiety to be able to respond more effectively to their children’s anxiety.

The author of this article, and founder of the Therapyinla.com website, Joyce Parker, passed away in 2011. To honor her we are keeping her articles posted at this website.


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