Severe Anxiety Can Trickle Down From Parent To Child: Study

Parents with a more severe form of anxiety disorder are likely to pass along that condition to their kids based on certain outward behaviors, a new study claims.

According to the research findings from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, parents specifically diagnosed with social anxiety disorder can promote stress in their children, and this parental condition becomes a risk factor for childhood anxiety. This takes on significance because social anxiety disorder is said to be the second most common anxiety illness among adults and causes serious problems at home and at work and could even lead to suicide.

The study followed 66 upper middle class parents (most of whom were female) in the Baltimore area, about 30 percent of whom had been previously diagnosed with social anxiety disorder and the others with lesser forms of anxiety, and their 66 young children. None of the children had been diagnosed with any form of anxiety. Researchers observed the interactions between parent and child in completing certain tasks such as using an Etch-a-Sketch and putting together a speech.

According to Medical News Today, “The parents diagnosed with social anxiety exhibited less warmth and affection towards their children, criticized them more, and expressed doubts about a child’s ability to complete a task more often.”

As a practical matter, what do these results mean for parenting? Medical News Today summarizes:

“Behaviors such as an absence of insufficient warmth and affection, as well as elevated levels of uncertainty and criticism directed towards the child, can heighten anxiety in children, and if they become chronic, can increase the chance for the children to develop an advanced anxiety disorder of their own.”

The study, which was published in the Child Psychiatry and Human Development journal, suggests that “among adult anxiety disorders, social anxiety disorder (SAD) appears most likely to have an impact on parenting behavior.”

Along these lines, study co-author Golda Ginsburg underscored that while anxiety can be genetically inherited, it might also be made worse by what goes on in the home:

“Children with an inherited propensity to anxiety do not just become anxious because of their genes, so what we need are ways to prevent the environmental catalysts, in this case, parental behaviors, from unlocking the underlying genetic mechanisms responsible for the disease.”

Children suffering with anxiety disorders can become severely depressed, get bad grades in school, and sometimes default into substance abuse.