Anxious parents, anxious kids: A potentially harmful cycle

If you’re an anxious parent, chances are you’re passing that onto your child. Wait before you worry, though: there are strategies for breaking that cycle.…

If you’re an anxious parent, chances are you’re passing that onto your child. However, there are strategies for breaking that cycle. (Photo: Shutterstock)

If you’re an anxious parent, chances are you’re passing that onto your child. Wait before you worry, though: there are strategies for breaking that cycle.

While it’s an almost perfect catch-22—parents with anxiety issues realize that they may be teaching their children those same tendencies, which leads to more worrying on the parents’ part—educating yourself about how to empower your child is a good first step in avoiding that pattern.

Increasing Stress Levels

For a variety of reasons, including anxious parents, anxiety on the rise among children and teens.

SEE ALSO: 10 Tips to reduce your child’s stress and anxiety

Psychology Today reports that anxiety has been steadily rising among youth for over a half century: according to their research, five to eight times as many high school and college students today experience high levels of anxiety and/or depression than did 50 years ago.

Those numbers are rising for adults, as well, with the National Institute of Mental Health reporting that 18 percent of American adults are affected by anxiety disorders each year.

Those who are parents, in turn, make it up to seven times more likely that their children will develop an anxiety disorder.

There’s no single reason for this increase in stress: while some people point to an extreme culture of safety-proofing in parenting, in particular, others blame everything from standardized testing to a poor economy to excessive scheduling of our supposed free time.

Passing on Habits

For some disorders, genetics make the difference.

Panic disorder, for instance, was the subject of a recent study published in the Journal of Neuroscience. Researchers discovered that the gene trkC was one factor in making children more susceptible to this anxiety disease.

Though specific genes have not been identified as the culprits for every anxiety disorder, it’s important to be aware of the danger a parent’s affliction may pose for a child.

On the other hand, many children don’t get a specific diagnosis or disorder: they simply pick up on mom’s or dad’s anxiety and adopt certain facets of that behavior. Just like children learn innumerable other skills and habits, if they see their parents worrying, they’ll become first-class worriers, too.

Anxious parents can make their children become anxious too.

Children can become anxious (Shutterstock)

Golda Ginsburg, a psychologist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, framed the problem: “‘…if a parent is showing anxiety, jumping up on a table when they see a mouse versus reacting calmly, we know children are more likely to develop fears similar to what their parents are showing.’”

Putting a Stop to the Cycle

Helping your child unlearn anxious behaviors isn’t a one day process, but it’s certainly doable.

The key, according to numerous sources, is allowing your child to make mistakes and face his or her fears. Of course, that shouldn’t be taken to the extreme of putting a child in danger, but it’s often parents’ own aversion to what’s uncomfortable or scary that nurtures that same anxiety in children, according to NPR’s report on the subject.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), one of the most-often recommended means of treating anxiety disorders, urges parents and children to examine those personal aversions and phobias in order to see how they’re affecting their lives. As described by PubMed Health, CBT relies on a well-studied body of research and focuses on the following:

–       Recognizing problems and finding solutions

–       Empowering the client to cope with daily life

–       Creating a collaborative partnership between client and therapist

–       Asking the client to analyze his or her own thoughts and determine how they might be having a negative effect on well-being

It can be tough for parents to let children do things that are frightening, especially if the parent is dealing with anxiety, too.

However, by pushing children to challenge themselves, you’re allowing them a chance to succeed. And when they do, they’ll build confidence and reduce anxiety.

SEE ALSO: Social anxiety in teens: Acting before it’s too late