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 anxiety of their own, ---a study of parent-child pairs conducted at Johns Hopkins Children's Center.
Before it had 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.
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.
Physicians and therapists who treat parents with social anxiety should be on alert about the potential impact on offspring.
"Parental social anxiety should be considered a risk factor for childhood anxiety," said Ginsburg.Anxiety is the result of a complex interplay between genes and environment
Controlling external factors can go a long way toward preventing anxiety in the offspring of anxious parents.
"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 says.
The researchers rated parental warmth and affection toward the child, criticism of the child, expression of doubts about a child's performance and ability to complete the task, granting of autonomy, and parental over-control.
Parents diagnosed with social anxiety showed less warmth and affection toward their children, criticized them more and more often expressed doubts about a child's ability to perform the task. Prevention of childhood anxiety is critical because anxiety disorders affect one in five U.S. children but often go unrecognized, researchers say. Delays in diagnosis and treatment can lead to depression, substance abuse and poor academic performance throughout childhood and well into adulthood.
The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health.Co-investigators on the study were Meghan Crosby Budinger and Tess Drazdowski.
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