Challenging your kids can reduce their anxiety, says study

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challenging behavior

It is assumed that 5% of children and adolescents suffer anxiety. Anxiety symptoms can start early in childhood, sometimes as early as 2-3 years of age. The symptoms are often chronic and persists into adulthood.

How to protect children from anxiety is an important issue. Recently, researchers found that challenging parenting behavior, such as rough-and-tumble play, risk taking, and teasing during parent-child interactions, can help reduce children’s anxiety and increase their confidence. The finding is published in Journal of Affective Disorders.

Challenging parenting behavior is often seen in father-child interactions. Fathers and children can have vigorous, physical play, and usually fathers are less likely than mothers to stop children during risky activities.

In the study, researchers tested 164 preschool children and their parents. For each family, they examine the child’s anxiety symptoms and the parents’ interactions with their child. Researchers then examined the relation between challenging parenting behavior and children’s anxiety.

The result showed that generally fathers had more challenging behavior than mothers. Both mothers’ and fathers’ challenging parenting behavior was associated with lower anxiety in children. In addition, mothers’ challenging behavior could predict children’s anxiety diagnosis.

Researchers suggest that when parents challenge their child, e.g., letting the child lose a game, giving the child a fright, and encouraging assertiveness, the child can be braver in unfamiliar situations and stand up for themselves. This will foster the child’s confidence and make them less anxious.


Citation: Lazarus RS et al. (2016). The relationship between challenging parenting behaviour and childhood anxiety disorders. Journal of Affective Disorders, 190: 784-791. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2015.11.032
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