Back To School: Anxious Parents Make For Anxious Children
September 10, 2013

Back To School Jitters Can Be Genetically Inherited, Researchers Claim

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Parents – if your children appear to have back to school jitters on their first week back in the classroom, it may be your fault, according to researchers from the Université de Montréal.

Richard Tremblay, a professor emeritus at the university who specializes in childhood psychology and psychiatry, explained that children who seem agitated or withdrawn after returning to school may not be the result of their own concerns over tough teachers, potential bullies or other uncertainties regarding the year ahead.

Rather, such worries may have been inherited from their parents, Tremblay said in a statement Monday.

“There is a big genetic effect in terms of anxiety behaviors,” he said. “The best predictors of anxiety or depression among children are their parents’ own struggles with the same disorders. In other words, if you have a very anxious mother or father, you are at high risk of being an anxious child.”

He explained that parents typically pass their anxious tendencies genetically to their sons and daughters, leading their offspring to be predisposed to bouts of apprehension. However, he said that childhood anxiety can be “amplified by their environment,” and that youngsters who are raised by anxious mothers and fathers – and who also happen to be genetically predisposed to those conditions – “will have a difficult time learning how to control your anxiety.”

In 1984, Tremblay began a longitudinal study focusing on the development of children starting at conception. Many of the first participants of that study are now in their mid-30s, and thanks to funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the psychology professor was able to construct a mobile lab in 2005.

The longer study time afforded by that mobile lab allowed him to keep working with the participants over multiple decades, and as a result, it gave him a chance to better understand the environmental and hereditary factors that cause children to become anxious, aggressive or depressed.

Going back to school is “a big change in the rhythm of life for everybody, especially children. Those who have problems with anxiety often create worst-case scenarios, almost like horror stories in their minds,” Tremblay said. However, rather than being a product of their imaginations, it is often a byproduct of their genetic makeup.

The impact that this behavior has on the student varies by behavior type, he explained. Tightly-wound types are more likely to become depressed. They could have serious issues paying attention in class, which could ultimately affect their social relationships, their grades, and their long-term scholastic achievements.

Jittery students, on the other hand, have what Temblay refers to as a “meta problem” – they are nervous about returning to school, and also tend to be anxious about being anxious once they get there.

The professor advises parents to monitor their children’s behavior during the first week back at school. He said they should figure out what kind of personalities their kids have and what coping methods in the past had worked. Tremblay also suggests that mothers and fathers who have previously suffered from anxiety to look for similar behavior in their sons and daughters, and use their own coping methods to help their children through difficult times.

“If children aren’t able to relax within the first few weeks of school, Tremblay recommends parents seek help from the school, from counselors or even from the young child’s grandparents,” the university said. “He believes they can offer grounded insight into what it’s like raising a high-strung kid who then has an anxious child of their own.”