Parental anxiety is the worry, fear, and stress some people experience in relation to their role as a parent or caregiver.

Taking care of a child or children is a big responsibility. Most parents or caregivers feel anxiety occasionally, but for some people, parental anxiety can impact the quality of their life or the child’s life.

This article outlines parental anxiety, signs, common triggers, and how it can affect the adult and the child.

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Anxiety is a common mental health problem. Around 31% of adults in the United States have an anxiety disorder at some stage.

Parental anxiety is the term for anxiety related to being a parent or caregiver. It can involve worrying about the child’s health and well-being, milestones, performance at school, and social life.

Parental anxiety can affect people with children of any age.

Most people feel anxious from time to time. General symptoms of anxiety include:

  • feelings of restlessness
  • feeling wound up or on edge
  • feelings of worry
  • fatigue
  • difficulty concentrating
  • difficulty sleeping
  • being irritable
  • headaches
  • muscle aches
  • stomach aches

Signs that a person has parental anxiety include:

  • avoiding putting a child in relatively safe situations they perceive as harmful
  • vocalizing feelings of worry or stress to other people, including a child
  • having persistent thoughts that something bad could happen to a child
  • spending excessive time worrying over small details relating to a child

Learn more about anxiety here.

Several factors can trigger anxiety in a parent or caregiver. These include worries about the child’s:

  • health
  • development, including meeting certain milestones
  • socialization
  • performance at school
  • emotional well-being

Parental anxiety can increase a child’s risk of developing childhood anxiety.

One 2019 review analyzed 25 studies and concluded that children were significantly more likely to have anxiety and depressive disorders if their parents had an anxiety disorder.

The review added that children of parents with anxiety were more likely to develop these specific types of anxiety:

Certain fears and worries are common in young children. However, if a child does not outgrow these worries or they interfere with their school, home, or play activities, they may have an anxiety disorder.

Common signs that a child has an anxiety disorder include:

  • being afraid when they are away from their parents
  • having extreme fear about certain situations or things, such as dogs, insects, or visiting the doctor
  • being afraid of school and other places where there are large numbers of people
  • feeling worried about the future and fearing that bad things may happen
  • being reluctant to try new things or take risks

A child with anxiety may also experience repeated episodes of sudden, intense fear. These episodes can happen unexpectedly and may cause the child to experience:

  • a pounding heartbeat
  • trouble breathing
  • feelings of dizziness
  • shakes
  • sweating

Parental anxiety can cause a person to feel nervous, jittery, tense, frightened, and on edge. It can also have the following effects:

Cognitive issues

A person with parental anxiety may experience the following cognitive issues:

  • fear of losing control of a child or a child not needing them
  • fear that the child will hurt themselves or die
  • worry that others may think negatively of their parenting skills or the child
  • have frightening thoughts or mental images relating to the child
  • an inability to concentrate and a shorter attention span
  • poor memory
  • have difficulty speaking

Behavioral issues

A person with parental anxiety may also experience the following behavioral issues:

  • avoid situations they perceive as harmful or dangerous for the child
  • avoid situations that trigger their anxiety
  • pursue safe, reassuring situations
  • discourage the child from engaging in activities they perceive as risky
  • become agitated

Learn about the physical effects of anxiety here.

People who have parental anxiety can try the following ways to manage their symptoms and avoid passing on their anxiety to others.

Plan ahead

A person can try to plan ahead about how to deal with triggering situations when they arise. For example, listing situations in a journal and coping strategies to employ, such as getting some fresh air, making a drink, listening to a favorite song, or deep breathing.

Practice coping skills

Individuals can find and practice ways to tolerate stress. When children see that a caregiver uses strategies to cope with stress, they will learn how to cope with stress themselves. Try to adopt a calm demeanor in front of the child and be aware of facial expressions and word choice.

Be open

Adults can be open with children about coping with anxiety. For example, if a caregiver shouts at a child during a stressful moment, they can later explain how they felt at that moment, and that shouting was their reaction. They could then discuss other ways they could have reacted and how they could react in the future.

Avoid sending the wrong messages

An anxious caregiver might unintentionally teach a child that certain situations are to be feared because they fear them themselves. For example, if a parent is fearful of swimming or being in the water, they may panic when their child is near water and transmit their fear to them.

Where possible, a caregiver could arrange to remove themselves from such situations and leave their child in the safe care of someone else.

Use stress management techniques

Stress management techniques can help a person reduce symptoms of anxiety. They include:

Seek help

A person can talk with a doctor or mental health professional about ways to manage anxiety. They may be able to signpost a person to support groups online or in person where they can share their experiences with others.

Finding support from friends and family members can also ease the pressure on a caregiver with anxiety.

Try cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

CBT is a type of therapy that focuses on the relationships between a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. CBT can equip a person with coping strategies that can help them manage challenging situations.

Research has shown that CBT is an effective treatment for anxiety.


A doctor may prescribe medications for people with severe parental anxiety.

Common anxiety medications include:

A person should contact a doctor if their parental anxiety is affecting their daily life, their children’s lives, or causing distress.

By speaking with a medical professional, a person can understand more about their anxiety and get useful advice on managing their anxiety symptoms.

Anxiety is a common mental health disorder in the U.S.

Long-term anxiety can increase a person’s risk of other health conditions, such as depression, digestive issues, insomnia, and chronic pain conditions.

Anxiety can respond well to treatment, and people who receive treatment can recover well and enjoy a good quality of life.

Parental anxiety is the feeling of worry, fear, and stress related to being a parent or caregiver.

Triggers for parental anxiety include worries over a child’s learning development, health, well-being, and relationships with others.

Parental anxiety can cause a parent to avoid situations or have negative thoughts. They may also experience physical symptoms of anxiety.

Parental anxiety may increase a child’s risk of developing childhood anxiety.

A person can manage their anxiety by planning ahead, using stress management techniques, and talking with a healthcare professional. They can also join support groups and share their experiences with others who understand their situation.