Interpretation and expectations among mothers of children with anxiety disorders: Associations with maternal anxiety disorder.


Background: Models of the development and maintenance of childhood anxiety suggest an important role for parent cognitions: that is, negative expectations of children’s coping abilities lead to parenting behaviors that maintain child anxiety. The primary aims of the current study were to (1) compare expectations of child vulnerability and coping among mothers of children with anxiety disorders on the basis of whether or not mothers also had a current anxiety disorder, and (2) examine the degree to which the association between maternal anxiety disorder status and child coping expectations was mediated by how mothers interpreted ambiguous material that referred to their own experience. Methods: The association between interpretations of threat, negative emotion, and control was assessed using hypothetical ambiguous scenarios in a sample of 271 anxious and nonanxious mothers of 7- to 12-year-old children with an anxiety disorder. Mothers also rated their expectations when presented with real life challenge tasks. Results: There was a significant association between maternal anxiety disorder status and negative expectations of child coping behaviors. Mothers’ self-referent interpretations were found to mediate this relationship. Responses to ambiguous hypothetical scenarios correlated significantly with responses to real life challenge tasks. Conclusions: Treatments for childhood anxiety disorders in the context of parental anxiety disorders may benefit from the inclusion of a component to directly address parental cognitions. Some inconsistencies were found when comparing maternal expectations in response to hypothetical scenarios with real life challenges. This should be addressed in future research.