Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Which came first...

...the over-protective mother or the anxious child?

According to a new study from the Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, over-protective mothering appears to be a "natural response" to anxious children.

The researchers, led by Jennifer Hudson of Macquarie University, knew from previous researchers that the mothers of anxious children tended to be over-protective and over-involved. What they didn't know, said Hudson, was "whether it is the child's anxiety that brings out over protective behavior."

For this study, titled "Child and Maternal Influence on Parenting Behavior in Clinically Anxious Children," the researchers compared clinically anxious children to their non-anxious counterparts as they interacted with mothers not their own. Hudson's group found that "when mothers interacted with an anxious child, they provided significantly more help to the child than mothers interacting with a child who did not have an anxiety disorder. "

"These results suggest that over-protection is a normal response to an anxious child and not the fault of the mother," Hudson said. "These findings may help reduce parental feelings of guilt and blame and may help parents understand their own and their child's behavior."

Many mothers of eating disordered children are accused of being over-protective, and many eating disordered children also show pre-morbid anxiety traits or disorders. This indicates that mothers of ED'd children may perhaps be more over-protective but that this is not necessarily indicative of any pathology on the mother's behalf. It's just a natural response to an anxious child.


Kim said...

Very interesting. I get sick of the "blame the mom" routine. This makes complete sense. My sister is not anxious at all and my mom was very different with her. I think she was more "involved" with me because I required it... Thanks for this.

Laura Collins said...

This will seem self-serving, coming from the parent of two kids prone to anxiety (who share NO genes with each other, I might add), but this finding is validating of what seems obvious.

I will say, though, that learning to back down my anxiety was helpful to my kids in backing down theirs. My reaction to their anxiety was natural and protective, and often helpful and needed, but I also had to learn some skills for getting off the emotional "wave" too.

That said, the sentence "You are overreacting" is the most infuriating and unhelpful sentence in the world.

Carrie Arnold said...


You raise a good point. There's a BIG difference between saying to a mother "Your over-protectivity caused your child's anxiety disorder" and "Your learning to cope better with anxiety will help your children." The second is profoundly true!