Parent Research: Parents Pass Their Anxieties to Kids

Some parents attempt to hide their true emotions when things are going bad, but this may be doing more harm than good. A recent study found kids can spot when their parents are under stress, especially with families spending more time together due to COVID-19.

According to researchers at Washington State University in a study published in the Journal of Family Psychology, parents often signal their suppressed emotions to their children, which can be harmful to the youngsters. During the study, children picked up on their parent’s emotions and changed their behavior to match the parent.

Another study from King’s College in London published in the American Journal of Psychology found that anxiety is not only genetically passed on from parents to kids, but also through exposure to parents’ anxious tendencies.

Researchers found that anxiety could be transmitted from parent to child by observing the parents’ fears or worries in their actions or overhearing their conversations. Kids would then adopt those same worries. Parents also passed along their anxiety by unnecessarily shielding their kids from something they feared.

On the flip side, parents were also found to perpetuate their children’s existing anxieties by altering their parenting choices to allow their kids to avoid facing anxiety-producing experiences.

What Can Parents Do?
• Make the decision to meet your personal anxieties head-on, and develop healthy strategies for coping with them. Evaluate your anxiety levels, and identify your primary anxieties. Do you have appropriate strategies for coping with your anxieties? If not, why not? Your goal should be to make your home as emotionally stable and anxiety-free as possible for your children.

• Consider the ways that your anxieties manifest themselves at home and in family life. What examples are you providing your kids regarding how to deal with anxieties in life? How can you improve your role modeling?

• Evaluate the extent to which you see your own anxieties being passed along to your children. If you find that your kids have similar anxieties, be proactive in teaching and practicing coping skills together.

• Try not to enable your children’s anxieties by helping them to avoid situations or experiences that trigger them. For example, if your child fears visiting a dentist, delaying dental care should not be a viable option. In the long run, it’s far better to help your kids face their anxieties, resolve them whenever possible, or to teach healthy coping skills for those that cannot be resolved.

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Jim Liebelt

Jim Liebelt

Jim is Senior Writer, Editor and Researcher for HomeWord. Jim has over 35 years of experience as a youth and family ministry specialist, having served over the years as a pastor, author, consultant, mentor, trainer, college instructor, and speaker. Jim’s HomeWord culture blog also appears on Crosswalk.com and Religiontoday.com. Jim and his wife Jenny live in Quincy, MA.

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