Scientists Warn Overprotective Parents That Anxiety Is Catching

Addam Corré

When it comes to being a good mom or dad, there's a fine line between good parenting and smothering your children by being overprotective.

A new study carried out at by scientists at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King's College London has concluded that such parenting can be bad for kids, as anxiety is "catching" and can be passed down.

As the study focused on on parents who were identical twins as well as non-identical twins, researchers were able to distinguish in the study between the influence on children's anxiety as a result of genes as well as their environment growing up.

One of the members involved in the study, Dr Robert Freedman explained.

"This study is a landmark, because it is the first to clearly establish the early transmission of anxiety symptoms from parents to children, not through their shared genetic background, but rather from the way in which anxious parents raise their children. Parents who are anxious can now be counselled and educated on ways to minimise the impact of their anxiety on the child's development."

The head author of the study, Professor Thalia Elay, said that parents don't have to pass their anxieties onto their kids, "Our research shows that even if you have had to cope with high levels of anxiety yourself, it is not inevitable that this will follow in your children. There are many things that can be done at home to prevent or reduce anxiety in children and adolescents."

Elay added, "While a natural tendency when your child is anxious is to try to protect them, it can be more helpful to support them in taking small age-appropriate risks. This will teach them that the world is generally a safe place and they can manage situations that initially seem stressful, developing their sense of mastery and in turn promoting resilience."

To that end, according to Elay, more research is needed in order to clarify whether anxiety in children and adolescents elicits anxiety in parents, "This would help us decide whether to focus intervention largely at the parent or child level," she said.

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