Parental Anxiety and Child Psychopathology: The Role of the Family Environment
A sizeable proportion of adults suffer from an anxiety disorder and many of those adults are parents. Parental anxiety, as well as dysfunctional family environment, contributes to both internalizing and externalizing problems in children. Specifically, family control, conflict, and cohesion have been shown to predict child internalizing and externalizing symptoms to varying degrees. However, few studies have examined the association between all three components in the same study: parental psychopathology, family environment, and child outcomes. The current study tested the relationships among these variables in a sample of 189 children (66% male, 93% Caucasian, mean age = 10.34 years). Family conflict predicted child externalizing symptoms for both mothers and fathers, and mediated the relationship between maternal anxiety and child externalizing symptoms. Family cohesion predicted child externalizing problems based on maternal report and mediated the relationship between maternal anxiety and child externalizing symptoms. Furthermore, family cohesion moderated the relationship between maternal anxiety and child internalizing symptoms. These findings provide preliminary support for the role of the family environment in the relationship between parental anxiety and child psychopathology, and these environmental variables may be important targets of intervention in families with elevated parental anxiety.