How can a parent with diagnosed anxiety effect a child and their development?

May 19, 2022
Asifa Rapaiee

About the author: Fiona is an EMDR accredited therapist in practice since 2008. She lives in Nottingham and enjoys watching her garden grow and reading lots of books.

We may inherit our anxiety from our own parents - not genetically but in the over protective, which tells us not to trust our own judgment or that the world is unsafe, or in our parents struggling to contain their feelings of fear or worry, or because our upbringing created uncertainty, feelings of not being safe or struggles to be accepted just as you are. Seeking to understand this does not mean we need to blame our parents or their parents but we can try to understand how they got to be that way. If we can understand their story, this can help us understand why they behave, or react to our impulses, behaviours or feelings with anxiety.

How does this help me you might ask? Well if you can start to notice what triggers your anxiety, to track it in your body, to unpick the process your mind goes through, as a response, then maybe you can begin to choose how you want to cope. Understanding ,for example that my Mum stopped me playing with the other kids in case I got hurt, might send a message that other people are unsafe. Maybe you struggle to trust others, to feel comfortable in groups or to regulate when you are in a team. Trying to notice this response, to find strategies to regulate, to test out being in a situation which allows you to try out being with this fear, and finding nothing bad happens, might help you to overcome.

Some of us may have a higher level of anxiety than the average person, and whether this is nature ( evidence shows cortisol can  cross the placenta in the womb and influence a child’s emotional development), or nurture, we can only notice and make choices about how we respond to the feelings and thoughts we have. Identifying the things which trigger your feelings of threat, can help you to begin to find ways of coping with them.

Accepting anxiety as a feeling which is essentially trying to keep you alive, allows a more benign intent and you can welcome it along with sadness, joy, anger and other emotions as a visitor that comes and goes. I think it is useful to notice the purpose of feelings and anxiety is a response to a perceived or actual threat, which aims to alert us. Checking out the reality of the thought or feeling and deciding whether your smoke alarm has been triggered because the toast is singed, rather than the house being on fire, can help you gain perspective.

If you are an anxious parent, you might want to notice how your dependent triggers your anxiety, and to help yourself regulate. Being truthful with children is always helpful, and explaining that you learnt to be afraid but they don’t need to be, can be part of this. Obviously explaining, needs to be age appropriate, but younger children might understand that sometimes when you think there is something scary, but then you check ,and realise you were wrong, a bit like thinking there is a monster under the bed but there never is. Demonstrating facing fear, regulating skills and being clear about your thinking or feeling when you might react in a way which is unhelpful, can support your child to grow up with the skills to cope with and address anxiety and stress.

What is not helpful, is worrying that your worries will impact your child. If you are struggling, seek help and figure out what you can do to help yourself. Modelling seeking help, overcoming struggles and allowing yourself to be a “good enough” parent, who has imperfections, shows your child they can do this too. Acting as if everything is fine and suppressing your anxiety may backfire, as children can tune into your emotions, even if they are not expressed. Anxiety is not something we want and we generally seek to get rid of it, but owning it, knowing it and tackling it, are helpful ways to help yourself and your child to have less. An Accredited therapist can support you if you are seeking help and there are many excellent resources available for free.


Useful resources:

Children and anxiety

Get right therapy help

How to help someone with anxiety

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