Published: November 7, 2012 5:27 PM
— Mary Elizabeth Dallas
Parental social anxiety should be considered a risk factor for childhood anxiety, according to researchers.
In a new study, researchers from Johns Hopkins Children’s Center found that kids with parents who have social anxiety disorder — the most common form of anxiety — are at greater risk for developing an anxiety disorder than kids whose parents have other forms of anxiety.
The study revealed that the parental behaviors that contributed to children’s anxiety included a lack of warmth and affection as well as high levels of criticism and doubt.
“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,” the study’s senior investigator, Golda Ginsburg, professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said in a university news release.
In conducting the study, Ginsburg’s team examined the interactions between 66 anxious parents and their children, whose ages ranged from 7 to 12 years. Of the parents, 21 had social anxiety; the rest were diagnosed with another form of anxiety, such as panic disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Each parent-child team was videotaped while working together to write speeches about themselves and also to copy designs on an Etch-a-Sketch. They were given five minutes to complete each task. On a scale of one to five, the researchers rated the affection and criticism the parents showed their children.
The study authors found that parents with social anxiety were less warm and affectionate toward their children. These parents also criticized their children more, and tended to doubt their child’s ability to complete each task.
Ginsburg, who also is a child anxiety expert at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, added that doctors treating parents with social anxiety should discuss the risk their condition poses to their children. The researchers noted that controlling environmental factors that contribute to anxiety can help prevent these children from developing the disorder.
“Children with an inherited propensity to anxiety do not just become anxious because of their genes, so what we need are ways to prevent the environmental catalysts — in this case, parental behaviors — from unlocking the underlying genetic mechanisms responsible for the disease,” Ginsburg explained.
The study authors noted that anxiety disorder affects one in five children in the United States. If left untreated, the condition can lead to depression, substance abuse and poor performance in school.
The study was released online in advance of print publication in an upcoming issue of the journal Child Psychiatry and Human Development.
The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more about anxiety disorders.
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