Parents with Anxiety Pass it on to their Kids - Stopping the Cycle

In an article to be published in the June issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, researchers from John Hopkins School of Medicine found that parents with anxiety disorders are up to 7 times more likely to have children with anxiety disorders. The researchers looked at 40 families and had half get 8 sessions of cognitive behaviour therapy, while the other half had no treatment until a year later. During the course of the initial year of the study, 30 percent of the kids whose families received no treatment were diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, while none of the kids in the treatment group were diagnosed. In addition, kids in the treatment group showed a 40 percent drop in anxiety symptoms in the year following treatment. Given that approximately 20 percent of kids develop anxiety disorders in the general population, this research gives us a clear direction in terms of prevention. The researchers are urging front line workers, such as physicians, to evaluate the children of their anxious parents and refer the family for brief cognitive behaviour treatment in order to mitigate the detrimental effects of developing an anxiety disorder. The  treatment typically consists of 8 sessions aimed at parents' overprotection, excessive criticism and excessive expression of fear and anxiety in front of the children as well as reducing childhood risk factors such as avoiding anxiety-provoking situations and restructuring anxious thoughts.

Anxiety is a pervasive emotion. Anxiety disorders develop for a number of reasons. However, anxiety has a higher learned component that most mental disorders. This is reflected in the fact that highly successful non-pharmeceutical interventions have been developed to treat anxiety. Exposure to feared but safe situations is the central component of treatment. This study suggests parents with anxiety disorders are more likely to teach their kids to avoid anxiety provoking situations thereby increasing their likelihood of developing a disorder. The study also shows that targeting avoidance in both behaviour and imagination is a very helpful preventative measure for children.

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