What is parental anxiety?
Parental anxiety is the constant overly worried about everything that might go wrong with one’s child or family. Sleep deprivation, concerns about the health and well-being of the children, fears of not being an adequate parent, and the stress of balancing parenthood with a career can all contribute to parenting anxiety.
Parental anxiety statistics
Parental anxiety is prevalent as a large percentage of parents experience symptoms of anxiety within the first few months of becoming parents. Up to 35% of parents experience anxiety during pregnancy, 17% soon after giving birth, and 20% six weeks later2. But parental anxiety doesn’t necessarily end after the newborn period is over.
Parental anxiety’s impact on the child
Anxiety tends to run in families. Children of anxious parents are 5-7 times more likely to develop anxiety disorders than those of non-anxious parents4,5.
Genes influence individual differences in anxiety levels in children6. Parenting behavior resulting from parental anxiety also contributes to the intergenerational transmission of anxiety7.
Therefore, anxiety in parents can have important implications and negative impacts on the child’s outcomes.
How to cope with parental anxiety
Proactive problem solving
Learn about child development
Individuals’ self-efficacy beliefs refer to the confidence they have in their abilities to accomplish their goals. A stronger belief in your parenting abilities can reduce anxiety9. The best way to feel confident and ease anxiety over not getting it all right as a new parent is to learn about child development.
There is so much information about parenting on the Internet that many new mothers feel overwhelmed and anxious. It is a challenge to wade through so many options and hope you have chosen the right one.
But parenting need not be a matter of luck or guesswork. A lot of research has already been done on child development. To ease new parent anxiety, arm yourself with science-based parenting information.
Exercise as self-care
It is important to take good care of ourselves, but for busy parents, it is a luxury. Self-care does not just happen in a spa with bubble baths. Exercising can boost your mood and energy, as well as reduce anxiety12. Take a walk, do yoga, or lift weights regularly to keep anxiety feelings at bay.
Seek constructive social support
Write in journal
How to avoid passing anxiety on to kids
Teach kids coping strategies
Teach your child coping strategies such as meditating, exercising, and taking deep breaths, and practice together. Your child will benefit from these calming mechanisms, too.
Avoid parental overprotection
Overprotection reduces children’s opportunities to acquire proper development skills, diminishing their sense of competence and resulting in higher levels of anxiety22.
Promote self-efficacy in your child
Help your child improve their self-confidence by helping them change their self-talk. You can do that by praising, giving constructive feedback instead of criticism, and exposing them to tasks that they can master24.
The whole family can benefit from seeing a clinical psychologist or a family therapist if both parents and children are suffering from anxiety.
Final thoughts on parent anxiety
- 1.Blanco C, Rubio J, Wall M, Wang S, Jiu CJ, Kendler KS. RISK FACTORS FOR ANXIETY DISORDERS: COMMON AND SPECIFIC EFFECTS IN A NATIONAL SAMPLE. Depress Anxiety. Published online February 27, 2014:756-764. doi:10.1002/da.22247
- 2.Nakić Radoš S. Anxiety During Pregnancy and Postpartum: Course, Predictors and Comorbidity with Postpartum Depression. ACC. Published online 2018:39-51. doi:10.20471/acc.2018.57.01.05
- 3.A.L. van Tilburg M, Edlynn E, Maddaloni M, van Kempen K, Díaz-González de Ferris M, Thomas J. High Levels of Stress Due to the SARS-CoV-2 Pandemic among Parents of Children with and without Chronic Conditions across the USA. Children. Published online October 21, 2020:193. doi:10.3390/children7100193
- 4.Crosby Budinger M, Drazdowski TK, Ginsburg GS. Anxiety-Promoting Parenting Behaviors: A Comparison of Anxious Parents with and without Social Anxiety Disorder. Child Psychiatry Hum Dev. Published online September 29, 2012:412-418. doi:10.1007/s10578-012-0335-9
- 5.McClure EB, Brennan PA, Hammen C, Le Brocque RM. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology. Published online 2001:1-10. doi:10.1023/a:1005260311313
- 6.Gregory AM, Eley TC. Genetic Influences on Anxiety in Children: What we’ve Learned and Where we’re Heading. Clin Child Fam Psychol Rev. Published online May 15, 2007:199-212. doi:10.1007/s10567-007-0022-8
- 7.Möller EL, Majdandžić M, Bögels SM. Parental Anxiety, Parenting Behavior, and Infant Anxiety: Differential Associations for Fathers and Mothers. J Child Fam Stud. Published online October 30, 2014:2626-2637. doi:10.1007/s10826-014-0065-7
- 8.Smith MM, Saklofske DH, Keefer KV, Tremblay PF. Coping Strategies and Psychological Outcomes: The Moderating Effects of Personal Resiliency. The Journal of Psychology. Published online May 7, 2015:318-332. doi:10.1080/00223980.2015.1036828
- 9.Gallagher MW, Payne LA, White KS, et al. Mechanisms of change in cognitive behavioral therapy for panic disorder: The unique effects of self-efficacy and anxiety sensitivity. Behaviour Research and Therapy. Published online November 2013:767-777. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2013.09.001
- 10.Effectiveness of a meditation-based stress reduction program in the treatment of anxiety disorders. AJP. Published online July 1992:936-943. doi:10.1176/ajp.149.7.936
- 11.Evans S, Ferrando S, Findler M, Stowell C, Smart C, Haglin D. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for generalized anxiety disorder. Journal of Anxiety Disorders. Published online May 2008:716-721. doi:10.1016/j.janxdis.2007.07.005
- 12.Jayakody K, Gunadasa S, Hosker C. Exercise for anxiety disorders: systematic review. Br J Sports Med. Published online January 7, 2013:187-196. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2012-091287
- 13.Jerath R, Crawford MW, Barnes VA, Harden K. Self-Regulation of Breathing as a Primary Treatment for Anxiety. Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback. Published online April 14, 2015:107-115. doi:10.1007/s10484-015-9279-8
- 14.Choi YK. The Effect of Music and Progressive Muscle Relaxation on Anxiety, Fatigue, and Quality of Life in Family Caregivers of Hospice Patients. Journal of Music Therapy. Published online March 1, 2010:53-69. doi:10.1093/jmt/47.1.53
- 15.Liu K, Chen Y, Wu D, Lin R, Wang Z, Pan L. Effects of progressive muscle relaxation on anxiety and sleep quality in patients with COVID-19. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice. Published online May 2020:101132. doi:10.1016/j.ctcp.2020.101132
- 16.Seih YT, Chung CK, Pennebaker JW. Experimental manipulations of perspective taking and perspective switching in expressive writing. Cognition & Emotion. Published online August 2011:926-938. doi:10.1080/02699931.2010.512123
- 17.Pennebaker JW, Chung CK. Expressive Writing: Connections to Physical and Mental Health. .; 2011.
- 18.Arch JJ, Eifert GH, Davies C, Vilardaga JCP, Rose RD, Craske MG. Randomized clinical trial of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) versus acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) for mixed anxiety disorders. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. Published online 2012:750-765. doi:10.1037/a0028310
- 19.Gagne D, Toye RC. The effects of therapeutic touch and relaxation therapy in reducing anxiety. Archives of Psychiatric Nursing. Published online June 1994:184-189. doi:10.1016/0883-9417(94)90052-3
- 20.Kapczinski F, dos Santos Souza JJ, Batista Miralha da Cunha AA, Schmitt RR. Antidepressants for generalised anxiety disorder (GAD). Kapczinski F, ed. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. Published online April 22, 2003. doi:10.1002/14651858.cd003592
- 21.Affrunti NW, Ginsburg GS. Maternal Overcontrol and Child Anxiety: The Mediating Role of Perceived Competence. Child Psychiatry Hum Dev. Published online August 27, 2011:102-112. doi:10.1007/s10578-011-0248-z
- 22.Clarke K, Cooper P, Creswell C. The Parental Overprotection Scale: Associations with child and parental anxiety. Journal of Affective Disorders. Published online November 2013:618-624. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2013.07.007
- 23.McLeod BD, Wood JJ, Weisz JR. Examining the association between parenting and childhood anxiety: A meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology Review. Published online March 2007:155-172. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2006.09.002
- 24.Peris TS, Compton SN, Kendall PC, et al. Trajectories of change in youth anxiety during cognitive—behavior therapy. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. Published online 2015:239-252. doi:10.1037/a0038402