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Parenting and childhood anxiety: theory, empirical findings, and future directions


  • 1

    A number of additional theoretical approaches have sought to explain anxiogenesis (e.g., neural and animal models) and, more specifically, the role parenting behavior plays in the development of childhood anxiety (e.g., attachment theory). A comprehensive review of these and other theories of childhood anxiety is beyond the scope of this paper. We have chosen to focus on models stemming from developmental psychopathology, emotion theory, and learning theory, given the degree of specificity and applicability of these models to the topic of our review.

  • 2

    Predictably, the single informant self-report studies yielded a high proportion of significant effects (see Table 1).

Jeffrey J. Wood, Psychology Clinic, 2191 Franz Hall, Department of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles, California, 90095, USA. Email:


Theories of anxiety development suggest that parental acceptance, control, and modeling of anxious behaviors are associated with children's manifestations of anxiety. This paper reviews research published in the past decade on the relation between parenting and childhood anxiety. Observed parental control during parent–child interactions was consistently linked with shyness and child anxiety disorders across studies. Mixed support for the role of parental acceptance and modeling of anxious behaviors was found in observational studies. However, there was little evidence supporting the contention that self-reported parenting style was related to children's trait anxiety. Because of limitations associated with past research, inferences about the direction of effects linking parenting and child anxiety cannot be made. A conceptual framework based on recent models of anxiety development (e.g., Vasey & Dadds, 2001) is presented to aid in the interpretation of extant research findings and to provide suggestions for future research and theory development. Improved methodological designs are proposed, including the use of repeated-measure and experimental designs for examining the direction of effects.