Can Parents Cause Anxiety in their Kids and Teens?

Photo of Caucasian mother sitting on a chair with her ankles crossed in front of her and her head resting in her hands. Photo could represent the anxiety she is feeling as a parent and her fear that it is influencing her child's anxiety.

Often in my initial phone calls with parents seeking therapy for their children, they tell me that they too struggle with anxiety. Usually, the conversation turns to questions about whether their child “got” anxiety from them or whether they’re making their child’s anxiety worse by not coping well with their own.

Perhaps you’ve wondered the same thing about your anxiety and its impact on your child?

We do know that anxiety disorders can run in families but that doesn’t mean you did anything to cause your child’s anxiety. No one is to blame. Anxiety is complex and can have multiple sources and triggers. It’s usually a combination of genetic, environmental, societal, and brain/biological factors.

What Does the Research Say About Parents, Kids and Anxiety?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), children of parents diagnosed with an anxiety disorder are up to seven times more likely to develop an anxiety disorder themselves, especially when parents have either Social Anxiety or Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

Again, the transmission of anxiety is usually a combination of genes, environmental stressors, and biological factors. But interestingly enough, research also supports that parenting has a small but significant impact on the development of anxiety in younger children.

How exactly? The most consistent evidence has come from studies looking at parental overprotection and child anxiety.

In a nutshell, being overly protective or overly involved in your child’s life (think helicopter parenting) is likely to lead to reduced opportunities for your child to approach new and potentially fearful situations. If you’re constantly assessing for your child what situations are scary and therefore need to be avoided, you may be preventing them from pushing past their fears and growing into confident and resilient young adults.

Strategies for Parents for Reducing Anxiety in their Kids

The good news is that the cycle of anxiety from parent to child can be interrupted. One 2008 study, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, found that children’s psychiatric symptoms decreased after their mothers were treated for anxiety.

The findings also suggest that reducing overprotective parenting as well as parental anxiety (e.g., anxious modeling and conversations around potential threats and avoidance) is important in preventing later emotional health problems.

Here are 5 strategies you can use today for reducing anxiety in yourself and your child.

Stop catastrophizing.

Stop thinking about all the things that could happen to your child. Your fear of uncertainty will not go away by you imagining the worst case scenario. It will only make it worse. You may believe that worrying makes you a responsible parent but what it does is create a situation where you are now overreacting. Overreacting only agitates you and your child and makes it more difficult to think rationally.

Remind your child of the best version of themselves.

Regularly tell your child who they are becoming because of the challenges they face. Just like the caterpillar who has to struggle in the cocoon to become a beautiful butterfly, so your child needs to wrestle and struggle a bit to emerge resilient. Over-functioning or making things too easy for your child because of your anxiety does not build resilience. It breeds codependency.

Slow down in every area of your life including how you engage with your child.

Stop over-parenting. By this I mean stop calling, texting, and checking up on them all the time. Calm yourself down and give them some room to breathe. Model good self-care. Kids tend to suck up everyone’s feelings around them so your ability to stay calm and deal with your own anxiety will greatly affect them. Keep things orderly and organized as much as possible in your home. Schedules are also important. Try new things but only after lots of discussion and planning.

Stop giving advice.

Listen instead. Ask clarifying questions with curiosity and compassion if needed but no advice. When your child responds, use the opportunity to validate their feelings. Your kids need to see your lack of fear as well as confidence (in yourself but also in them) in the midst of uncertainty.

Talk about your own struggles as a parent.

There is no such thing as perfection, especially when it comes to parenting. Our kids learn by watching us struggle and by hearing how we assess a situation. Openly share how you feel about it, your options for handling it and which one you want to try first. Discuss how you can motivate yourself to keep going in the midst of a difficult circumstance and how to re-frame it if necessary. We need to teach our kids to persist and how to find a better outcome. All are opportunities for growth.

Begin Online Therapy for Kids with Anxiety in Illinois

If your child has been struggling with anxiety, there is hope! Anxiety is highly treatable and online anxiety treatment at Briefly Counseling can help.

Using solution focused brief therapy, I help kids and teens reduce their anxiety and build resilience so they can become a happier, more confident version of themselves.

And kids love being able to receive counseling from the comfort and privacy of their own home. Studies have consistently proven that online therapy delivers equal results to in-office counseling.

As an experienced and caring therapist, I love providing online counseling for anxiety. To start your child’s counseling journey, follow these simple steps:

  1. Click on the Schedule an Appointment
  2. Select a day and time in my online calendar
  3. Or learn about me, your caring online therapist 
  4. Watch your child gain confidence and feel better

Helena Madsen, MA, LCPC is the founder of Briefly Counseling. I specialize in providing online short-term anxiety treatment for kids and teens ages 7 – 19 as well as Christian counseling.

I provide all services via online therapy in Illinois. Whether you’re in Naperville, Chicago, Champaign, Rockford, Libertyville, or Crystal Lake, I can help you. Schedule your appointment or consultation today. I look forward to working with your child to quickly and effectively help them in activating their strengths, resources, and resilience, in order to live with confidence and hope.

Visit my website at www.BrieflyCounseling.com for more information or call 224-236-2296 to connect with me personally.