Can a Parent Cause Anxiety in a Child?

Reviewed on 4/8/2022
Can a Parent Cause Anxiety in a Child?
Studies show children are more at risk of depression and anxiety when their parents exhibit signs of aversiveness (harshness, sarcasm, hostility, criticism, or shaming).

Anxiety disorders are a common type of psychiatric disorder characterized by anxiety or fear that does not go away over time. 

A meta-analysis of studies on anxiety found that young people whose parents were less warm, fought more, were over-involved in their children’s lives, or generally “aversive” are at increased risk of depression and anxiety.

Aversiveness includes harshness, meanness, sarcasm, hostility, criticism, punishment, rejecting, or shaming by the parent toward the child, as well as parent-child conflict.

In addition, parents who are stressed and anxious themselves can unintentionally transmit these feelings to their children. Children can be like sponges who pick up emotions from their parents and take them on themselves

Other possible causes of anxiety in a child may include: 

  • Worry about the future and bad things happening (general anxiety) 
  • Extreme fear about a specific thing or situation, such as dogs, insects, or going to the doctor (phobias
  • Repeated episodes of sudden, unexpected, intense fear that come with symptoms like heart pounding, having trouble breathing, or feeling dizzy, shaky, or sweaty (panic disorder)
  • Stressful events
    • Frequently moving or changing schools
    • Parents fighting or arguing
    • The death of someone close to them
    • Serious illness 
    • Injury
    • School-related issues such as tests or bullying
    • Abuse or neglect
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autistic spectrum disorders
    • Not causes of anxiety, but children with these disorders are more likely to have problems with anxiety 

Some children are simply more anxious as a baseline and less able to cope with stress as a baseline than others.

What Are Symptoms of Anxiety in a Child?

Symptoms of anxiety in a child may include:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Sleep problems
  • Bad dreams 
  • Not eating properly
  • Anger or irritability
  • Being out of control during emotional outbursts
  • Constant worry 
  • Negative thoughts
  • Feeling tense 
  • Restlessness
  • Using the toilet frequently 
  • Frequent crying
  • Being clingy
  • Complaining of stomach aches and not feeling well
  • Separation anxiety (in younger children)
  • Social anxiety or worries about school (in older children and teens)

How Is Anxiety in a Child Diagnosed?

Anxiety disorders are usually diagnosed with a psychological evaluation. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association, provides diagnostic criteria for an anxiety disorder. 

Lab studies to diagnose or exclude medical conditions that may cause anxiety include:

  • Blood tests
    • Complete blood cell (CBC) count
    • Chemistry profile
    • Thyroid function tests
  • Urine tests

What Is the Treatment for Anxiety in a Child?

If the parents are the cause of the anxiety in a child, parents should: 

  • Try to be supportive, warm, and open with the child
  • Give the child clear guidelines and boundaries
  • Allow the child freedom to learn from their own mistakes 
  • Not over-control them
  • Manage their own stress
    • Mindfulness
    • Learn their own triggers
    • Explain their anxiety to the child
    • Disengage from the stressful situation
    • Find support

Treatment for anxiety in a child may also involve: 

  • Behavior therapy
    • Cognitive-behavioral therapy 
    • Child therapy
    • Family therapy
  • Social support
  • Lifestyle changes
    • Healthy diet
    • Physical activity
    • Adequate sleep
    • Predictable routines


Panic attacks are repeated attacks of fear that can last for several minutes. See Answer

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Reviewed on 4/8/2022
Image Source: iStock Images