Background: Family history studies in adults reveal strong familiality for the anxiety disorders with some specificity. The aim of the current study was to establish whether there was an elevated rate of anxiety disorders in the parents of children with anxiety disorders, and whether there was intergenerational specificity in the form of disorder.
Methods: The mental state of a clinic sample of 85 children with anxiety disorder and their parents was systematically assessed, together with a comparison sample of 45 children with no current disorder and their parents.
Results: Compared to the rate of anxiety disorder amongst parents of comparison children, the rate of current anxiety disorder in mothers of anxious children was significantly raised, as was the lifetime rate of anxiety disorder for both mothers and fathers. The mothers of children with generalised anxiety disorder, social phobia, specific phobia and separation anxiety disorder all had raised lifetime rates of the corresponding disorder, but also raised rates of others disorders.
Limitations: Only 60% of the fathers of the anxious children were assessed.
Conclusions: Strong familiality of anxiety disorders was confirmed, especially between child and maternal anxiety disorder. All child anxiety disorders were associated with several forms of anxiety disorder in the mother. Some specificity in the form of anxiety disorder in the child and the mother was apparent for social phobia and separation anxiety disorder. The findings have implications for the management of child anxiety.