The Cognitive, Emotional, and Social Experiences of Mothers of Children with Anxiety Disorders

Date of Submission


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)



Department Chair

Robert A DiTomasso, PhD, ABPP, Chair, Department of Psychology

First Advisor

Elizabeth A Gosch, PhD, ABPP, Chairperson

Second Advisor

Stephanie H Felgoise, PhD, ABPP

Third Advisor

Lynne Siqueland, PhD


Current literature suggests a bidirectional relationship between parenting and child anxiety in which parents and children interact in ways that may promote, exacerbate, or maintain symptoms of anxiety. Limited insight regarding the underlying process and direction of this relationship exists. The present study utilized a qualitative design to explore the cognitive, emotional, and social experience of parenting a child with an anxiety disorder from a mother’s perspective. A semi-structured interview was conducted with ten mothers of children with anxiety disorders. Mothers of anxious children reported engaging in behaviors that served to prepare for or manage their children’s anxiety. They discussed feelings of sadness, of frustrations, and of beliefs that they were to blame for their children’s anxiety disorders. Participants described experiences in which they felt that their children were stigmatized and that anxiety disorders were misunderstood or not taken seriously. Anxiety was described as being “part of the child” and related to personality characteristics and temperament. Social support through family, friends, mothers of anxious children, and mental health professionals was identified as crucial to mothers’ coping. The emphasis on the phenomenological experience of mothers of children with anxiety provided insight into better understanding the contextual factors that could influence parenting behavior, cognitions, and emotions. Findings suggested that early relational interactions may have established deeply embedded patterns that serve to promote and maintain anxiety. The early and pervasive nature of the development of such patterns may have contributed to subtle behaviors and interactions that are outside of the mothers’ awareness.

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