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The Relationships Among Parental Anxiety, Parenting, and Children’s Anxiety: The Mediating Effects of Children’s Cognitive Vulnerabilities

Abstract

Theoretical models have emphasized the roles played by parental anxiety and behavior in the development of childhood anxiety problems. Little is known regarding the differential impacts of mothers and fathers or regarding the processes that mediate these influences. The present study examines the relationships between maternal and paternal trait anxiety, overprotection, and emotional support on the one hand and anxiety symptoms in children on the other hand. This study also explores the mediating role of children’s cognitive vulnerabilities to anxiety disorders in the relationship between parental variables and children’s anxiety. A sample of 80 children and their parents (fathers and mothers), selected from an initial screening of 905 school-aged children, participated in this study. The results indicate that both parents had unique influences on children’s anxiety symptoms: maternal trait anxiety and paternal overprotection and concern were found to independently and positively contribute to children’s anxiety. Furthermore, children’s interpretative biases mediated the relation between maternal trait anxiety and children’s anxiety symptoms. The results of this study underline the importance of considering both paternal and maternal factors in the development of children’s anxiety problems. These findings also have implications for theoretical models of the etiology of anxiety and for the treatment of these problems in children.

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Acknowledgments

This study was supported by a grant awarded to the first author by Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia (SFRH/BPD/63960/2009). The authors thank all of the schools, families, and children that participated in this study and made it possible.

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Correspondence to Ana Isabel Pereira.

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Pereira, A.I., Barros, L., Mendonça, D. et al. The Relationships Among Parental Anxiety, Parenting, and Children’s Anxiety: The Mediating Effects of Children’s Cognitive Vulnerabilities. J Child Fam Stud 23, 399–409 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-013-9767-5

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Keywords

  • Childhood anxiety
  • Mothers and fathers
  • Parenting
  • Parental anxiety
  • Cognitive vulnerability