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How Parental Anxiety Impacts Kids

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Anxious parents, understandably, are anxious about how their anxiety impacts their children.

Anxiety is a lot of nature and some nurture but you have to have the nature first. In other words, if a child doesn’t have the kind of brain that tends to anxiety then they may learn to be a little worried now and then but they won’t develop anxiety. Studies bear this out. Parents can parent in the exact same way and have one child with an anxiety disorder and another one that sails on through to adulthood without issue.

There is also a chicken or egg conundrum, meaning that it can be difficult to know who is training whom in the anxious family pattern. An anxious parent may indeed model anxiety for a child but an anxious child may demand extra sensitive attention from their parents. That is to say that a parent who is nervous about a child falling down may hover more, sending a message to the child that they are less steady than they feel. But a child who is intensely afraid of falling down may fuss to keep a parent close. We can look at that pattern and hazard a guess about which came first but I don’t think it’s necessary or helpful.

Trying to figure out where the anxiety comes from is much less important than figuring out what to do to get everyone out of the anxiety provoking pattern. We need to focus on how we can help parents to best cope themselves and how to give their child the ability to cope as well. Both parents and children need psychoeducation about anxiety; coping tools for managing their anxiety; and an understanding of how to reset family patterns to help everyone get unstuck.

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