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Anxious parent, anxious child ?


March 8, 2024 Well-being


Par Catherine Giard

Psychosocial worker

One of a parent's first responsibilities is to protect their child.  Every parent wants their child to experience minimal discomfort, and to be able to develop by taking on small challenges that will enable them to learn and grow.  Nowadays, parents are encouraged to use a caring approach in raising their children.

In this way, children learn to make safe choices that respect their limits and emotions. What happens when a parent experiences anxiety? What impact can a parent's anxiety have on the quality of their daily interventions?

Some parents experience discomfort when their child is stressed and do everything they can to address it, sometimes to the detriment of the child's development. 

Example Behaviours of an Anxious Parent

1. Help your teenager practice their oral presentation until the wee hours of the morning, so that they perform well and don’t make a fool of themselves in front of his class.

2. Ordering for your child at a restaurant or asking a question to the store clerk because they are too shy or embarrassed to do so.

These two examples of behavior help avoid stress in the face of the anxiety trigger (the judgment of others). The anxious parent empathizes with the child, and wishes to avoid the discomfort that the child might feel instead of the parent. Instead, they reinforce the child's avoidance behavior. In this way, the parent prevents the child from developing their own strategies for coping with stressful situations.

“My child got into an argument with a friend in the schoolyard. When they got home, they cried and told me they are stressed about having to deal with the situation tomorrow. In order to help my child feel better, I call the other child's parents to find a solution quickly.”

It is difficult for an anxious parent to tolerate or cope with the negative emotions their child experiences.

Finding a solution and acting FOR the child and not WITH them is meant to reassure the child, but also helps to reduce the parent's anxiety. However, doing so does not allow the child to develop their own strategies to learn to better manage and tolerate negative emotions.  

Impact on child development

These accommodating behaviours are completely instinctive and come from a parent’s natural inclination to support their child.  However, knowing that children of anxious parents are at greater risk of developing anxiety than children of non-anxious parents, it is important for parents to be aware of the impact of their behaviours or reactions on their child's psycho-emotional development. 

6 Ways to Be a Better Role Model for Your Child

Anxiety is an emotion that can be experienced by anyone in their lives, especially in times that require adaptation.  However, as psychologist Martine Verreault explains, “Observational learning and social modeling are mechanisms by which fear and anxiety can be acquired very early in a child's development. Children observe the behaviours adopted by those around them, even the most subtle.”

A sponge is a helpful image to explain this concept. The child absorbs the anxious parent's behaviors, and then reproduces them. So, here are some solutions from the Hors-Piste program that parents can use to be a positive role model for their child:

  • Dealing with stressful situations and talking about the strategies used.
  • Accepting that it is OK to make mistakes.
  • Talking about emotions.
  • Using stress management strategies.
  • Taking care of yourself, seeking help when needed.
  • Adopting healthy lifestyle habits (diet, sleep, physical activity, etc.).

Doing your best and asking for help

You are a parent, yes, but you are first and foremost a person with their own life experiences, trying to do your best to provide your child with everything they need to develop. If you feel at any time that you need to talk or find new tools to deal with your anxiety, it is possible to apply for help via these services:

  • Info-Social service by dialing 811 option 2
  • La Ressource ATP (Anxiety and Panic Disorder)