Can Parents Pass Their Anxiety Disorder To Children? New Study Says They Might

There’s new evidence that children who display anxious behavior might have learned it from their parents.

Published in JAMA Network Open, the new study looked at how parents passed their anxiety to their kids. The study involved 398 kids from 221 mothers and 237 fathers.

The researchers discovered that while children can learn their anxious behavior from their parents, the chances of it happening is more likely if the same-sex parent displayed anxiety in front of them. This means that daughters learn from moms, and sons learn from fathers.

“Children may be more likely to learn anxious behavior if it is being displayed by their same-sex parent (i.e., sons learning their fathers' behavior and daughters learning their mothers’ behavior),” said study co-author Barbara Pavlova, a clinical psychologist in the mood disorders program at Nova Scotia Health Authority in Halifax, Canada.

However, this doesn’t mean that it’s irreversible or even inevitable.

“The results suggest that children learn anxious behavior from their parents, and this means that transmission of anxiety from parents to children may be preventable,” added Pavlova.

Furthermore, sharing the house with a same-sex parent not displaying any anxious behavior appears to protect children from eventually developing anxiety. Per the researchers, children are 38% less likely to develop an anxiety disorder.

Pavlova said that this could be due to the role that environmental factors plays when it comes to the transmission of anxiety. Most likely, this is because children share approximately the same amount of genetic material with their mothers and fathers.

Usually associated with depression, substance abuse, and educational underachievement, anxiety disorders are common, as noted by the study authors.

Fortunately, such disorders are treatable.

“Parents should seek help with their own anxiety not just for their own health, but also for the health of their children,” said Pavlova, adding that gently encouraging them to face situations that may be anxiety-provoking is very helpful. 

The study findings can help parents get better insights into their own behavior and how that translates with their family in the household.

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