Category: Parenting / Families
Parents of anxious children have been found to engage in more intrusive or autonomy-restricting behaviors compared to parents of non-anxious children (Hudson et al., 2008). Parent experiential avoidance (PEA) can contribute to intrusiveness, as parents who are unable to tolerate their own emotions when seeing their child in distress may be more likely to “take over” in anxiety-provoking situations (Cheron et al., 2009). Little research has documented this relationship or of the moderating effect of parent’s own anxiety.
Objective and Methods
The current study examined the effects of PEA on parent intrusiveness (PI), moderated by parent distress. 176 youth (ages 6 – 17) seeking treatment for anxiety and depression and their parents completed a one-time assessment that included the Depression Anxiety Stress Scale for parent distress (DASS-21; Lovibund et al., 1993), the Parental Avoidance and Action Questionnaire (PAAQ; Cheron et al., 2009) to assess parents’ unwillingness to see their children in distress, and inaction or inability to take action to address their children’s distress. Child-reported PI was assessed using the Parent-Child Interaction Questionnaire (PCIQ; Wood, 2006).
Results and Discussion
Hierarchical regression analyses, controlling for age and gender, demonstrated main effects between child-reported maternal intrusiveness and maternal anxiety (β= 2.48; p=0.03). The interaction between maternal Inaction and anxiety was also significant (β= -2.38; p=0.04), such that greater Inaction was associated with less intrusiveness for mothers reporting high, but not low, anxiety. Main effects of maternal Unwillingness (β= 0.53; p=0.01) and maternal depression (β= 2.31; p=0.05) on child-reported maternal intrusiveness were significant. Interactions between maternal Unwillingness and depression approached significance (β= -2.22; p=0.06), suggesting that greater Unwillingness may be associated with more intrusiveness in mothers with high, but not low, depression. Finally, main effects of paternal Inaction (β= 1.08; p < .01) and paternal depression (β= 8.15; p < .01) on child-reported paternal intrusiveness were significant. The interaction between paternal Inaction and depression was significant (β= -8.41; p < .01), such that greater Inaction was associated with less intrusiveness for fathers reporting high, but not low, depression. In sum, parents who report more difficulty taking action when their child is in distress may disengage from their child in anxiety-provoking situations, while parents who report more unwillingness to see thir child in distress may engage in more intrusive behaviors in an effort to "rescue" their child from negative experiences.