How to Prevent Your Anxiety from Rubbing Off On Your Child

Sometimes, it seems like our kids aren’t learning anything from us—but that’s simply not the case. Kids absorb all the information around them and learn by example. While that can be a good thing, it can also be a problem if you don’t want to pass on certain behaviors you’re modeling for them, like anxiety.

If you’re struggling with anxiety, first remember that it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Lots of people have trouble controlling their anxiety. But it’s also important to realize that your behavior is bound to transfer to your child and could cause them to develop anxiety problems of their own.

With that in mind, it’s essential to address problems with your emotional health as soon as you possibly can. According to a pew research study, 70{54c12dad2cc2b53ae830e39915b1a3e70288dbcbbeb8bbf8395437c5dc3c512c} of teens struggle with anxiety and depression, which can start when children are much younger.

So how can you avoid passing on the anxiety that’s causing you nothing but distress? Here’s what you need to know.

How Does Anxiety Affect Children?

It shouldn’t be too surprising that children are sensitive to the emotions their parents may be experiencing. They pick up on even subtle cues and shape their world view of what’s “normal” by watching their parents. Kids can pick up on anxiety in the home and may be more prone to developing an anxiety disorder if one or both of their parents struggle with anxiety.

There isn’t one main cause of anxiety in children, but both the child’s environment and genetics come into play. Parents can’t change their children’s genetics, but factors like modeling anxiety-promoting behaviors can make the risk go up. Parents who have an anxiety disorder will need to work hard to reduce the impact of their own anxiety on their children, which may include measures like behavior modification and therapy.

Anxiety in America

If you suffer from an anxiety disorder, you’re far from alone. Many Americans have dealt with anxiety or depression at some point during their lives. Pressure from school and work are common triggers for racing thoughts, anxiety, stress, and overwhelm.

Even young adults, who should be enjoying their college years and focusing on learning and growing, often struggle with anxiety. In fact, anxiety and depression are the top two reasons that college students seek mental health services, according to the Center for Collegiate Mental Health.

Across America, anxiety disorders affect 18.1{54c12dad2cc2b53ae830e39915b1a3e70288dbcbbeb8bbf8395437c5dc3c512c} of the population—40 million adults—making them the most common mental health disorder in the country. Although the problem is so common, many people never get a diagnosis or seek out treatment for the issue. Instead, they suffer for years in silence and often transfer the problem to the next generation.

Anxiety disorders include:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Phobias
  • Social Anxiety Disorder
  • Panic Disorder (PD)
  • Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Brain chemistry, environment, upbringing, genetics, and life experiences all have an impact on the development of anxiety disorders. Not all of these factors can be controlled, but most people who have an anxiety disorder can benefit from treatment and find some relief with talk therapy, medications, and other therapies. Many people with anxiety have also struggled with depression one or more times.

Putting a Stop to Anxiety Transference

If you think that your anxiety is starting to rub off on your child, then it’s time to take steps and put a stop to anxiety transference in your home.

The first step is to understand which behaviors might be putting your child at risk for developing an anxiety disorder. Do you talk about things that scare you in front of them repeatedly, like spiders or merging onto the freeway? Do you react poorly to being startled or when you’re stressed out by changing plans or situations you weren’t expecting? Do you avoid situations that scare you and explain to your child why you’re not comfortable in those situations?

These are all small, subtle ways you may be transferring your own anxiety to your child.

Other signals you may not even have considered is warning your child over and over to be careful when playing or limiting how high they can climb or jump. By repeatedly warning them about hazards in their everyday life, you may think that you’re teaching them to be safe, but you may just be teaching them to be anxious.

Of course, it’s important to keep your children safe. But it’s also important for them to take a few risks and to have the freedom to explore the world around them. Play should be playful, not cause anxiety. A few cuts and scrapes along the way are to be expected. You should absolutely warn your children about truly dangerous activities, but when it comes to normal “kid stuff” it’s important to keep your own worries to yourself.

Using a journal to note your triggers can be helpful in modifying your behavior. You can also practice mindfulness and breathing exercises to start minimizing your anxiety for a more peaceful life.

It can be very helpful to work with a mental health professional both in getting treatment for your own anxiety and for learning strategies you can use to avoid transferring your worries and fears. Sometimes, therapy for your child may be necessary if they’re showing signs of anxiety themselves. There is no shame in reaching out for help and it can make your efforts much more successful.

Putting Your Own Feelings (and Fears) Aside

Anxiety doesn’t serve you, and it’s definitely not something that will serve your kids. The key is learning to put your own feelings and fears aside for the sake of your kids’ mental health. You may be terrified that they’ll injure themselves or have the same fears that you do, but by hovering over them, this is actually more likely to happen.

Kids need to face their fears. If they don’t, they may become much more worried and prone to anxiety in the long run. Protecting your kids with your own anxiety just doesn’t work. For a happy, healthy family, you need to let go (just a little bit) and face your own fears.


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

16 Responses to How to Prevent Your Anxiety from Rubbing Off On Your Child

  1. Nadia Ramsey says:

    This is all so true.
    I remember when I had a baby few years back, I used to be irritated due to lack of sleep and rest. I used to be cranky and sometimes I would reply rudely to people around me, my baby was around 3 months, but I noticed whenever I used to be agitated, my baby would cry or become restless too, even though he was well-fed and well-rested. Eventually, I got to know that these are my emotion affecting the baby and it was a great lesson learnt. Now, even though I am not feeling well but I always fake it and show happiness to keep him happy. It instantly lifts my mood too when I see him smile at me!

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