While all parents may be anxious at times, parents with anxiety disorders risk passing the condition to their children.

Up to 30 percent of the U.S. population experiences anxiety-related symptoms at some point in their lives. Genetics and life experiences may each play a role in the development of the condition, but experts estimate that 30 to 40 percent of these disorders hereditable.

When parents have anxiety disorders, it can affect children in two ways. These triggers may help elevate your child's risk of an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety Trigger #1: Your Behavior

High levels of anxiety interfere in healthy parenting practices. In a study published in Journal of Clinical Child Adolescent Psychology, researchers identified specific, anxiety-promoting parenting behaviors they identify as potential risk factors for childhood anxiety.

  • Over control. The researchers describe over control as intrusive behavior, excessively regulating a child's activities, and not readily granting age-appropriate autonomy, which restrict the child's opportunity to master new skills and develop self-esteem.
  • Modeling. As any parent knows, children tend to mimic their parents' behavior. When these behaviors are maladaptive, children fail to learn more positive approaches to problem solving and coping.
  • Criticism. Criticism creates anxiety in children and creates uncertainty about their skills, prompting a poor sense of self-worth and value, which is a risk factor for developing anxiety disorders.

Anxiety Trigger #2: Early Childhood Experiences

According to another study published in Child Development, experience "gets under the skin" in early life in ways that affect children's development. Clearly, traumatic experiences can alter how children develop. However, it may come as a surprise to learn researchers say it's often the less memorable, yet common, day-to-day adversities of early childhood (such as anxiety-provoking parental behavior) that have a lasting influence.

These early sensory stimulations activate specific genes in different parts of the brain that influence the development of neural pathways to parts of the brain involved in, coping, language, and cognition.

Fortunately, anxiety disorders are treatable. Eighty percent of people with generalized anxiety disorder see a 50 percent reduction in symptoms. If you suffer from anxiety, seek help from a qualified mental health professional.

Debra Warner, PsyD, reviewed this article.



Johns Hopkins University. "Panic Disorder." Web. http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/conditions/

Ginsburg, Golda S., Grover, Rachel L., Cord, Jennalee J., and Lalongo, Nick. "Observational Measures of Parenting in Anxious and Nonanxious Mothers: Does Type of Task Matter?" Journal of Clinical Child Adolescent Psychology 35(2) (2006): 323-328. Web. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3371081/

Massachuesetts General Hospital. "Panic disorder." Web. http://www2.massgeneral.org/schoolpsychiatry/info_panicdisorder.asp

Essex, Marilyn J., Boyce, W. Thomas, Hertzman, Clyde, Lam, Lucia L., Armstrong, Jeffrey M., Neumann, Sarah M. A., and Kobor, Michael S. "Epigenetic Vestiges of Early Developmental Adversity: Childhood Stress Exposure and DNA Methylation in Adolescence." Child Development 84(1) (2013): pages 58-75. Web. 1 September 2011. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-8624.2011.01641.x/full