"The results underscore the vulnerability of offspring of anxious parents. If we can identify kids at risk, let us try and prevent them," said psychiatrist Golda Ginsburg from University of Connecticut.

Ginsburg and colleagues at Johns Hopkins University tested a one-year family therapy intervention as part of a study of 136 families - with at least one parent with anxiety and at least one child between the ages of six and thirteen. The study found that family-based intervention works.

Only nine percent of children who participated in a therapist-directed family intervention developed anxiety after one year, compared to 21 percent in a group that received written instruction, and 31 percent in the group that did not receive any therapy or written instruction.

Anxiety tends to run in families, with up to 50 percent of children of anxious parents growing up to be anxious themselves.

Until now, anxiety prevention programs have been largely conducted in schools, with only modest success. For an anxious child, meeting a new peer for the first time can be paralyzing. Trying an unfamiliar food might summon worries of being poisoned.

"To cope with this kind of debilitating anxiety, kids start avoiding whatever provokes the anxious feelings," Ginsburg noted. If they are afraid of the dark, they might insist on sleeping with all the lights on. If they're afraid of failing, they won't try new things. In extreme cases, they may refuse even to leave the house.

Anxiety and fear are protective and adaptive. But in anxious kids they may not be, because these children have thoughts about danger and threat when there really isn't one."I would say we need to change our model of mental health to a check-up method. Like going to the dentist every six months," Ginsburg noted in a paper that appeared in The American Journal of Psychiatry.


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