top of page

Can Parents Pass Food Allergy Anxiety on to Kids?

Mom and daughter in the kitchen

As I was mindlessly scrolling through social media, this headline caught my eye:​

"As a mom with clinical anxiety, I worry about passing it on to my son. Here's what experts say."

Did this statement catch your eye, too?

As a therapist, this article didn't share information I wasn't already aware of, but I found it so relatable. How many parents have wondered that exact thing - can we pass our anxiety on to our kids? After all, it's no surprise that rates of anxiety are on the rise, both anxiety disorder diagnoses and simply experiencing anxiety, especially given what we've all lived through these past five years.

I'll pause here to make a quick note about the difference between anxiety and fear. Anxiety comes from thinking about worries and fears, whereas fear is the response to being faced with something scary and unsafe. For example, anxiety would be triggered by thinking about going in for an oral food challenge (thinking about potential danger), whereas you'd feel fear, and likely experience physiological responses such as shallow breathing and racing heart, if you were doing an oral food challenge and believed you were having an allergic reaction (facing the actual danger)​

So, can parents pass their food allergy anxiety on to their kids?

The answer is yes and no, because the good ol' nature (genetics) versus nurture (environment/experiences) debate is at play here.

It's easy to jump to the conclusion that if we have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, we will definitely pass it on to our children. It's a similar conclusion we may jump to with regards to a diagnosed food allergy and allergic disease, and the likelihood of passing allergies on to our children. But the reality of genetics is that while kids may be predisposed, or more likely to have these conditions as well, it's not a definite that they will. That is, they're not guaranteed to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder (or allergic condition) just because we are.

​Can we do anything to decrease our kids' chances of being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder?

That's where the nurture part of the debate enters. Parents can definitely have an impact on how their kids handle anxious feelings.

Specifically, parents can:

  • Model workable ways to handle anxiety effectively, such as feeling it and then dealing with it

  • Set the tone for anxiety - teaching that it's a normal emotion, even if uncomfortable to experience

  • Help kids challenge their anxious thoughts and face their worries

  • Help kids develop skills to evaluate perceived versus actual risk

  • Notice signs of anxiety in their kids and reach out for support if it's impacting daily life and functioning

Reminding yourself of these things can be helpful in your mission to provide an environment focused on managing anxiety:

  • Experiencing anxiety or feeling anxious is a normal part of life - don't aim to extinguish anxiety completely; rather, aim to develop a different relationship with it and respond differently to it

  • It's okay if you're anxious - focus on developing your own anxiety management skills

  • Anxiety can be a useful tool, helping us to assess safety and make mindful choices

  • Just because we feel anxious doesn't mean we have an anxiety disorder

  • Our mind can be overly-helpful at times, pushing us to perceive things as more unsafe than they actually are

  • Our mind can also trick us into thinking we aren't capable of dealing with tough and unsafe situations

  • Focus on learning/teaching anxiety management skills versus constantly exploring the never-ending "what ifs"

  • Ask your child for their ideas on how best to deal with their anxious thoughts

And since anxiety is often part of the equation for both those managing an allergy diagnosis and their parents/caregivers/loved ones, you can use this information and these reminders to help you approach things differently in order to positively impact how you and/or your kids see allergy anxiety. Remember, you can make a difference in how your child sees and approaches their food allergy anxiety!​

For more insights and resources to help manage food allergy anxiety, check out the following:

Ready to reach out to a food allergy-informed therapist?

If you or your child are experiencing anxiety that is intense, ongoing, impacts daily functioning, and/or keeps you from living the life you want to live, it's a good time to reach out to a therapist for support and skill-building.

Visit The Food Allergy Counseling Directory to locate a food allergy-informed therapist in your state.


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page