As a parent with clinical anxiety, I worry about passing it on to my child. Here’s what the experts say.

What parents should know about anxiety and children. (Image: Topos Graphics for illustration)

My husband and I are proud millennial members of the Lexapro Club™ – as are most of our friends our age with kids. Turns out, according to a new study focusing on age-old drug use and mental health, 68% of us between the ages of 26 and 41 take at least one prescription a day — with depression and anxiety meds in most cases. . our medicine cabinets and the most commonly reported. Of course, as a parent with anxiety, I am incredibly anxious as to whether or not my 4 year old will develop anxiety and need medication as well.

It’s a nature versus nurture argument. Are we creating an anxiety-inducing environment for him on a daily basis? I know he can tell when something is up when my husband and I are biting our nails more than usual. Or is it just in the cards for him because my husband and I have anxiety and he’s predisposed? Here’s what the experts told me.

Is anxiety genetic?

Rebecca Schrag Hershberg, psychologist, parenting coach, speaker and author of The tantrum survival guide, says that even if both parents have been diagnosed with anxiety disorders — a situation she calls “genetic load” — they’re not “doomed.”

“We certainly can’t guarantee that your child won’t develop anxiety, but we can lower the likelihood,” says Hershberg. “[When both parents have anxiety] it’s not a level playing field. So the same things that you might see in your young child, you might want to pay more attention than someone else who doesn’t have anxiety who sees those same things in their child, because the likelihood increases when you have those genetics carrying in there.”

Anxiety disorders develop through three pathways, according to Hershberg. One is genetics and the other is temperament. “If your child was born with an anxious temperament—kind of slow to warm up, fussy, a big startle response—it could mean he’s more likely to develop anxiety,” she says.

And then the third path is the environment and how we parent. “Obviously, we can’t control the first two, which make it more likely to develop anxiety, but we can control the third,” says Hershberg.

Demonstrate how you deal with feelings of anxiety

Children are much smarter than we think. They are empathetic little sponges and can sense when things are “wrong” with you and when you are anxious, no matter how hard you try to hide it. Is there a way to effectively protect your child from their anxiety in certain situations?

“I tell parents that it’s unrealistic to expect that they can always hide their stress and anxiety from their children,” says Ilyse Dobrow DiMarco, psychologist, anxiety specialist, and author of Mom’s Brain: Proven Strategies for Combating the Anxiety, Guilt, and Overwhelming Emotions of Motherhood — And relax into your new self. “For starters, everyone is stressed and anxious at times – and when children observe these emotions in their parents, it helps them see that these feelings are normal and understandable. Children can “clearly perceive” when we are stressed and anxious. They take everything. It can be difficult to hide our feelings from them.”

DiMarco says what we anxious parents need to focus on is modeling effective coping strategies for our kids, even if that seems difficult right now. “One of the most important is showing them that we are actively facing our fears, which is the basic principle behind exposure therapy,” she says. Tell them when you are facing your fears and lead by example. Are you afraid of flying? Book a flight for spring break and let your child know how you’re not letting your fears get in the way of family fun.

Other effective coping strategies to model for your children include breathing exercises like belly breathing, taking a “mind break” or thinking of our emotions as a wave – they rise and fall, and it’s an ebb and flow. Remind your children of these techniques if you notice them becoming anxious.

Early signs of anxiety disorder in children

Most kids will say they’re worried, anxious, or scared, but most of the time they show “emotional dysregulation,” says Hershberg.

Emotion dysregulation is exactly what it sounds like – difficulty regulating emotions, according to medical news today. It is also when the response is not within a range of typical emotional responses to an event.

What you should look for is how intense your child’s reactions to something are, how long this dysregulation lasts – both in the moment and over time – and whether it is disrupting your family’s or your child’s everyday life.

“Is this something that is easily managed in five minutes or so, or does it take half an hour?” Hershberg told Yahoo Life. a time? My child can’t go to school, can’t have friends, can’t enjoy the weekend? Are they causing harm to themselves? Are they rigid when it comes to change? These are all kinds of things that we look at when we look at whether these symptoms or these behaviors and children have reached a level where intervention might be warranted.”

What to do if your child has anxiety symptoms

If parents observe anxious behavior in their children, Hershberg recommends examining the SPACE method established by Eli Lebowitz at the Yale Child Study Center; the acronym stands for “Support Parenting for Emotions of Anxious Children”. Lebowitz found a link between anxiety and an “accommodation cycle”. When children are anxious, their caregivers tend to accommodate that anxiety. giving in to their anxious behaviors and being an enabler because it’s so hard not to when your child is, as Hershberg puts it, “freaking out.”

Herschberg says he has worked with elementary-age children who needed to hear the same speech as their parents, assuring them that a burglar would not break into their home. The speech was long, including setting the alarm, what would happen if the alarms went off, and how the police would help. It had to be the same every night.

Accommodator would be the father repeating this speech to his son every night. Under the SPACE method, however, you can say all of this the first night, and if the child keeps asking again, you don’t accommodate this, but trust that your child will be able to handle the feeling of anxiety. You help them name their feelings and tell them that it’s okay to have that feeling and that they can get over it. Remind them that you will be there for them because you know it sucks to feel that way. Taking this approach, says Hershberg, is an example of how parents can control their anxiety response and help their children manage it.

But most importantly, when it comes to anxious parents and trying to raise little humans, checking in with yourself first is vital.

“If a parent is in a constant state of high anxiety, it’s a different story,” says DiMarco. “So the focus really needs to be on getting parents effective treatment so they can more effectively manage their anxiety. We don’t want our children to live in an environment of relentless anxiety and fear.”

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As a parent with clinical anxiety, I worry about passing it on to my child. Here’s what the experts say.

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