Family history is known to be a contributing factor to anxiety disorders. If someone in your family struggles with anxiety, your child is more at risk for developing an anxiety disorder. While adults learn to manage their anxiety, childhood anxiety tends to be intensified. As they learn more about the world, their generally anxious temperament extends to anxiety about specific situations. We know that parent anxiety influences child anxiety through brain chemistry, but children also pick up on anxious thoughts and habits they witness people in their lives struggling with.
Anxiety in Children Influenced Through Genetics
It is estimated that between 30 and 67% of the variation in anxiety is explained by genes passed down by parents. Genes that are associated with vulnerability to anxiety tend to interact with each other and are shaped by environmental factors. Additionally, brain activity plays a bigger role in determining anxiety than brain structure.
In a study that used PET scans to image the brains of rhesus monkeys during anxiety-inducing encounters, they noticed that monkeys who showed more signs of anxiety had higher levels of activity in parts of their brain responsible for emotion regulation and responding to fear. This suggests that their brains are wired to respond to mild threats as if they were major.
And Social Learning
Children learn primarily through experience. While parents may teach their child to be confident, curious, and courageous, they may end up role modeling anxious behaviors. When children observe their parents’ fears, worries, and anxious talk, they may internalize this kind of thinking.
Your specific fears may feel justified by your personal experiences; however, your child may quickly learn to avoid those situations even if they haven’t had a chance to draw their own conclusions.
Even if you don’t have a history of struggling with anxiety, parenting an anxious child can bring up feelings of anxiety as parents try to accommodate their child’s emotional needs. Often, this means taking on their anxiety symptoms and changing the family’s routine in the child’s best interest. While family accommodation is well-intentioned, it can affect the well being of the entire family.
Tips for Managing Your Anxiety
- Know your own triggers. Keep track of situations that bring up anxiety for you and thoughts associated with it.
- Separate your anxiety from your child’s anxiety. Notice how your child responds when you are feeling anxious. Is she able to maintain her own emotions? How do you respond when your child is anxiety? Do you try to rescue her? Many parents take on their child’s anxiety and believe that their child’s problems should be their own, which only reinforces anxiety for both parties. Know when to take a step back and put your needs first.
- Encourage healthy risks. It is natural for parents to be concerned about their child’s safety, but encouraging them to be hypervigilant at all time makes kids more risk-averse. They internalize that the world is dangerous and that they need protection at all times. Encourage your daughter to play outside, participate in sports, and meet new friends without hovering to make sure they’re okay.
- Talk about healthy coping skills. When parents model healthy strategies to manage and cope with stress and anxiety, kids learn that they can cope with their triggers and stressors independently. Many coping skills can be shared activities, like taking a walk together, planning an art project, practicing mindfulness, or even brain-storming solutions for stressful situations with a growth mindsets.
- Participate in family therapy to explore strategies for improved communication and family bonding. As parent anxiety or child anxiety can affect the entire family, family therapy helps repair strained relationships and teaches boundaries for shared anxiety.
Asheville Academy Can Help
Asheville Academy for Girls is a therapeutic boarding school for middle school girls ages 10-14. Our students commonly struggle with anxiety, depression, ADHD, learning differences, and attachment issues. We are a relationship-based program that focuses on building meaningful connections through teamwork, group therapy, experiential activities, and small classrooms. Parents stay actively involved in their daughter’s therapeutic journey by learning skills through family therapy and workshops.
For more information about anxiety in children, call 800-264-8709. We can help your family today!