Opinion

Is anxiety hereditary? |Your child may be at more risk if you are an anxious parent

While the cause of excessive anxiety in kids is uncertain, research suggests there may be a genetic component. Scientists have found that a particular genetic variation related to introverted personalities also involves the processing of fear and anxiety. Does this mean that anxious parents will have anxious children? It may, but not always.

Environment plays a big role in the manifestation and severity of anxiety — as much or even more than genes. For example, children who experience many changes in their lives or who do not have a secure attachment to a parental figure may develop anxious responses, even without a genetic susceptibility.

Anxiety also may be a learned behavior, since a parent’s ability to handle stress influences the child to react to certain situations in the same way.

As a parent, it’s important to recognize anxious behavior in your child. Some warning signs include severe shyness, sleeping or eating problems, excessive worrying, or compulsive (repetitive) behaviors.

If your child exhibits one or more of these signs, you can try to help overcome the fears which lead to his or her anxious behavior. One tip is to acknowledge your child’s worries and encourage a discussion about the issue. Avoid telling any child not to worry, as the fear will not go away on its own, nor simply because you say so.

Try to establish a relaxation strategy for your child in times of stress. Physical activity, music, muscle relaxation, breathing exercises and meditation are all effective stress-busters. If your child’s anxiety persists, you might consider seeking the help of a counselor.

It’s also important to recognize that school changes can be a big source of anxiety for many children, particularly transitions from elementary to middle school and middle to high school. It’s important for parents to help their children prepare for these changes in advance.

 

Patti Skelton-McGougan is executive director of Youth Eastside Services. For more information, call 425-747-4937 or go to www.youtheastsideservices.org.

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