A study published in the journal Cognitive Therapy and Research indicates that mothers of kids with social anxiety disorder tend to be more involved with their children than mothers of non-anxious offspring.
Though the extra involvement is well-intentioned, it may send a disempowering message to the child.
Symptoms of social anxiety disorder (SAD) typically appear in late childhood or the early teens. This condition is primarily characterized by an intense fear of being rejected or embarrassed in social situations, making the formation of relationships difficult. Having SAD can also negatively impact a child’s academic functioning.
The mother and child study, headed by Julia Asbrand from the Institute of Psychology in Germany, was done within family homes and involved 55 mother and child pairs. The children, with and without SAD, were between the ages of 9 and 13.
Each child was asked to complete as many difficult tangram puzzles as they could within ten minutes; results to be revealed afterward. The demanding puzzles simulated a frustrating or stressful homework task, and the mothers were allowed to help, but not encouraged to. Investigators were absent as the puzzle sessions were videotaped.
The recorded sessions revealed the mothers of children with SAD touched the puzzle pieces markedly more often, and they gave assistance though the child did not ask for any and showed no outward signs of helplessness. This demonstrates maternal behavioral control; however, these mothers were not negative or unduly critical of their child’s efforts.
"By touching the puzzle, mothers may convey the impression that the child is not able to solve the puzzle alone, thereby limiting the child's degree of self-efficacy," said Asbrand. "Consequently, this kind of control may lead the child to constantly expect a threatening environment, which could increase hyper-vigilance and subjective fear. Such behavior by mothers also limits their children's opportunity to successfully apply coping strategies to new situations on their own."
Sources: Science Daily; Springer
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