Parents with social anxiety disorder are more likely than parents with other forms of anxiety to engage in behaviors that put their children at high risk for developing angst of their own, according to a small study of parent-child pairs conducted at Johns Hopkins Children's Center.
Authors of the federally funded study say past research has linked parental anxiety to anxiety in children, but it remained unclear whether people with certain anxiety disorders engaged more often in anxiety-provoking behaviors. Based on the new study findings, they do. A report on the team's findings appears online ahead of print in the journal Child Psychiatry and Human Development.
Specifically, the Johns Hopkins researchers identified a subset of behaviors in parents with social anxiety disorder -- the most prevalent type of anxiety -- and in doing so clarified some of the confusion that has shrouded the trickle-down anxiety often seen in parent-child pairs.
These behaviors included a lack of or insufficient warmth and affection and high levels of criticism and doubt leveled at the child. Such behaviors, the researchers say, are well known to increase anxiety in children and -- if engaged in chronically -- can make it more likely for children to develop a full-blown anxiety disorder of their own, the investigators say.
"There is a broad range of anxiety disorders so what we did was home in on social anxiety, and we found that anxiety-promoting parental behaviors may be unique to the parent's diagnosis and not necessarily common to all those with anxiety," says study senior investigator Golda Ginsburg, Ph.D., a child anxiety expert at Johns Hopkins Children's Center and professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
The Johns Hopkins team emphasizes that the study did not directly examine whether the parents' behaviors led to anxiety in the children, but because there is plenty of evidence
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Johns Hopkins Medicine