Does parental anxiety naturally transfer to children?

The next few blogs I write are going to be based around my dissertation. I have only recently completed my dissertation and I am waiting on my results. I decided to do my dissertation on the transfer of parental anxiety to a child and whether there was anything to stop this transfer. This blog will look at the transfer and I will write another about whether you can stop it.

Between 8 and 11% of children suffer from anxiety that affects their daily life and it has been found that anxiety in children has doubled in the last two years due to the pressures of modern life.

It has been proven by many researchers that anxiety runs in families. One study showed that children who had a parent with anxiety were seven times more likely to experience anxiety than other children.

It has also been proven that anxiety can originate in early life due to the rapid growth and development of the brain. Neurodevelopment psychopathology begins prior to conception. So a mother who is anxious during her pregnancy can pass this on to her baby during pregnancy and soon after birth.

The main way that anxiety transfers from a parent to a child is through a parents behaviours and coping mechanisms. This is a transfer through learned behaviour.

Children look to their parents for information on how to interpret a situation. If a parent feels anxious then the child will determine that these situations are unsafe.

An anxious mother often over involves herself in her child’s life, and this can also increase their child’s perception of threat.  If a parent then becomes over protective, the child learns that they cannot deal with the threat themselves and that they need their parents help. This can then lead to a lack of confidence and feelings of inadequacy which can lead to anxious behaviours.

A parent with anxiety is more likely to use catastrophising language which makes their child more anxious.

There have been many studies carried out looking at the genetic link and learned behaviour and it has been found that learnt behaviour is more likely to transfer anxiety from a parent to a child.


I can definitely see how my behaviours may have passed on anxiety to my daughter. My next blog will be about what we can do to stop this transfer.

Have you had any experience with this. Please share your stories.