Anxious Parents Make Anxious Children
> 6/21/2007 9:01:10 AM

Many parents worry that the genes they have passed on are the cause of their children's anxiety disorders. It is true that a study involving twin pairs found a heritability component in the development of anxiety disorders, but this study leaves the question of what other major factors account for the development of such disorders in children. It was in an effort to examine these causes that Dr. Kelly Drake presented a study at the annual conference of the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, which illustrated that parental worry itself may actually be responsible for making children anxious.

Dr. Drake focused on anxiety sensitivity, which she describes succinctly as the fear of the symptoms of fear. Those who fall down this fear spiral might for example worry that a rising heart-rate, quite normal for someone under stress, signals an imminent heart-attack. The study of 157 families yielded the finding that both parental AS and overprotection increased AS in children. These results suggest that parents are passing on maladaptive methods of coping with stress.

Parents that constantly fret over their child, over-reacting to scraped knees and reports of discomfort, can instill fear in their children. In addition to this overt message, children can learn from the unspoken example of their parentsí behavior. Even if a father tells his son not to worry about anxiety, he may still send the wrong message when he flees to the hospital because of the stress of a new job.

Parents should be aware of the signals they give, so that their children do not develop unhealthy ways of dealing with stress like avoidance or self-medication. As we have seen, there are several factors that can lead to the development of an anxiety disorder, some related to nature, others to nurture. Chances are there are as yet still other factors to be discovered. But parents can take away from Drake's report the knowledge that whether they intend to or not, they are sending important messages to their children about how to deal with stress.

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