What Parents Can Do To Avoid Passing Anxiety On To Their Kids

Discussion in 'Health' started by Michelle Lines, Nov 15, 2015.

  1. Michelle Lines

    Michelle Lines New Member

    What Parents Can Do To Avoid Passing Anxiety On To Their Kids

    By Michelle Lines

    Clinical Psychologist

    Specialist in Anxiety and Depressive Disorders.

    Children of anxious parents are more at risk of developing an anxiety disorder. But there’s welcome news for those anxious parents: that trajectory toward anxiety isn’t set in stone.

    Therapy and a change in parenting styles might be able to prevent kids from developing anxiety disorders, according to research published in The American Journal of Psychiatry.

    The researchers, led by psychiatry professor Golda Ginsburg, a professor of psychiatry at UConn Health in Farmington, Conn., looked at 136 families. Each family had at least one parent who had been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and at least one child in the 6-to-13-age range who had not yet been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

    Roughly half the families received eight weekly sessions of family therapy, while the other half received only a 30-page hand out describing anxiety disorders, without specific strategies for reducing anxiety.

    After one year, only 5 percent of children from the families who received the family-based therapy had been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Among families who received just the hand out, that number jumped to 31 percent.

    “The basic question was, because we know that anxiety runs in families, could we prevent children from developing an anxiety disorder whose parents had anxiety?” says Ginsburg, who conducted the study with colleagues from Johns Hopkins University. The answer was yes, at least over a year.

    The message from the study’s findings so far, is that the focus needs to shift from reaction to prevention. “In the medical system there are other prevention models, like dental care, where we go every six months for a cleaning. I think adopting that kind of model — a mental health check up, a prevention model for folks who are at risk — is I think where we need to go next.”

    All humans feel anxiety. It’s normal, and in many cases, it’s a good thing — it makes us run when we see that tiger coming toward us or study for that tough exam that’s coming up tomorrow.

    But in people with an anxiety disorder, that dose of healthy anxiety goes awry. People might feel levels of anxiety that are out of proportion to the situation or feel anxiety in a situation where there is simply no threat. It is like an alarm clock going off at the wrong time.

    In children, excessive anxiety can come in a variety of ways. Some might struggle with separation anxiety, where they’re afraid to go anywhere without their parents.

    Others might struggle with social anxiety, afraid of anything from raising their hand in class to eating in front of others in the school cafeteria. Still others struggle with overwhelming worry. They might think, “If I fail this test, I’ll fail this grade, fail out of high school, never go to college, never get a job and become homeless.”

    Whatever the form that the anxiety takes, it’s a combination of overestimating the risk of danger — whether that danger is in the form of embarrassment, a dog or a test — and underestimating one’s ability to cope.

    There is no single cause for anxiety disorders. They’re the product of an interaction of genetic and environmental factors. But the disorders do run in families, and there are certain parenting behaviours that can promote anxiety — like modelling anxiety in front of your kids. Modelling might be direct, like jumping up on the kitchen table when you see a mouse, or indirect, like over cautioning your kids to be careful when there’s no danger.

    In my practice I see parents who have suffered with anxiety themselves since they were children, and they do not want their children to suffer in the same way that they did.

    In my first two therapy sessions with the parents alone, we discuss the impact of the parents’ anxiety disorder on the family and how often they do things that could inadvertently raise levels of anxiety in their children.

    In the remaining sessions with the anxious child, I work on how the child can recognise anxiety and use coping strategies to deal with it.

    One key strategy that I use when helping parents to get them to understand that kids have to face their fears. Sometimes parents help their children avoid anxiety-provoking situations because they’re worried it’s too much for the child, when in fact they need to help them face their fears in order to reduce their anxiety.

    Armed with the right information, parents can help their children prevent anxiety or coach their kids through it when it happens. If your child is scared to walk into that first soccer practice alone because he doesn’t know anyone, don’t throw the car in reverse and speed back home, she says. Sit calmly with him as he musters the courage to walk in.

    The biggest message I try to impart to parents I works with is not to try to prevent anxiety, but instead promote their child’s competence in handling it. If your child doesn’t like to go play at friends’ houses, they need to go play at more friends’ houses. The anxiety that children face lessens each time the child faces a feared situation and is allowed to use the coping strategies that they have learned.

    That is kind of an ‘aha’ moment in the parent workshops, that kids who worry about these things need more practice, not less.

    Anxiety is very treatable. “Kids are not doomed to distress.”

    I have put up some valuable tips and coping skills to help you with your child in a previous post. You can find it on my website www.resolvetherapy.co.uk

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