There was a great article recently published in the Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology about the relationship between maternal anxiety and child anxiety during Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) of child anxiety. Here’s a link to the abstract.
3 interesting findings:
- Mom’s became less anxious when they thought their child was less anxious
- Kids’ anxiety decreased more after reductions in their mother’s maternal psychological control and family affective involvement
- Kids’ with mother’s with lower family affective involvement, behavior control, and maternal anxiety showed the greatest reductions in overall anxiety from pre to post-treatment.
Some important definitions (from cited article):
- Maternal anxiety – refers to the large and well-documented biological and environmental impact on the child when mom has anxiety. Anxious mothers are more likely to over-react during scary situations, verbally transmit anxious beliefs to their child, and/or disengage or withdraw during parent-child interactions.
- Parental psychological control – refers to control attempts (guilt induction, withdrawal of love, parental rejection, criticism) that limit child’s ability to manage their own emotions, reduces child’s perceived control over stressors, promotes sense of helplessness, and can undermine the child’s self-esteem.
- Behavior control – refers to direct overprotective and control behavior (making rules and insisting that regulations are followed) that prevents the child’s development of self-efficacy for coping with uncertain situations.
- Family affective involvement – refers to when a parent is overly involved and invested in their child’s activities in such a dysfunctional manner that the child’s independence is compromised.
So what can parents do to reduce their child’s anxiety?
- Get your child professional help if they have anxiety, which will in turn make you feel less anxious. Acknowledging there is a problem (your child has life debilitating anxiety so much so that he/she is avoiding certain situations) will not make it worse but actually give it the attention it deserves. The longer kids avoid activities, the more difficult it will become to change those habits later on.
- Let your child face feared situations and possibly fail so they can learn resiliency and how to cope on their own. If you protect them forever, they will never grow up, never separate from your help, and never become independent, autonomous adults. It might be difficult for you to see them in distress, but it’s better for your child in the long run if you don’t save them from non-dangerous situations.
- Learn how to manage your own emotions, either via self-help or professional therapy, so your own anxiety does not interfere with your child’s reduction in anxiety. The younger and more dependent the child, the more likely a mother’s own anxiety will negatively impact the child’s anxiety. Parents who are anxious are also likely to not recognize reductions in their child’s own anxiety. This includes family problem-solving to role model effective coping strategies.
Written by Joshua Rosenthal, PsyD