Budinger and colleagues (2013) state that children of anxious parents are over five times more likely than those of non-anxious parents to have an anxiety disorder.
However, genetics only contribute very little to the development of anxiety, so research has been interested in how parenting behaviours contribute to the development of particular anxiety disorders.
Among the adult anxiety disorders, social anxiety disorder (SAD) appears to be the most likely to influence parenting behaviours. Indeed, there is evidence to suggest this.
SAD is associated with a number of impairments such as dysfunction in interpersonal relationships. SAD is linked to self-criticism and negative interpretation bias.
Adults with SAD are less emotionally expressive, and they tend to be inhibited interpersonally. For example, a study found that adults with SAD exhibited fewer prosocial and non-verbal behaviors during interactions (Budinger et al. 2013).
A new study by Budinger and colleagues (2013) compared parenting behaviours of anxious parents with and without a diagnosis of SAD, during brief interactive tasks.
Non-anxious children, between the ages of 7 and 12, were included in this study for a reason because it is known that child anxiety also influences parenting behaviours. The study shows that parents with SAD engage in more anxiety-promoting parenting behaviours.
During the brief interactive task, parents with SAD demonstrated less warmth and positive affect directed at their child (e.g., smiling less, fewer loving gestures) than did parents with other anxiety disorders.
A minimum of warmth and positive affect may influence attachment in a negative way:
“According to attachment theory, warm, responsive caregivers are essential for secure attachment. Thus, children who experience a restricted amount of parental warmth may not develop a secure attachment, and therefore may view the world as unpredictable and threatening, and experience more anxiety.”
Parents with SAD were also more likely to express criticism or make negative or doubting comments with respect to their child’s performance.
Indeed, people with SAD tend to have a negative interpretation of ambiguous stimuli. This negative interpretation may cause socially anxious parents to notice and comment more on mistakes.
Also, individuals with SAD fear negative evaluations and favour perfectionism because they try to avoid anticipated social humiliation. As a result, they may utilize criticism as a way of avoiding social humiliation (Budinger et al. 2013).
In closing, this study suggests that parents with SAD may behave in a unique way when they interact with their children, and this particular way of interacting has been linked to an increased risk of the development of anxiety.