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Study: Parents Underestimate Childhood Anxiety


Every parent hopes that their kid is happy and well adjusted, but are children more anxious than parents realize?

A new study from the University of California suggests that parents might be positively biased toward their child’s feelings, rendering them effectively blind to their kids' inner turmoil.

Psychologists have long believed that children under 7 cannot accurately report how they feel, according to Kristin Lagattuta, Ph.D., who led the study. Because of this, behavioral scientists often have to rely on the impressions from parents and other adults. But several studies have shown that parents overestimate their children’s abilities, like performances on math, language or other cognitive tests.

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“We thought this ‘positivity bias’ also might apply to how parents perceive their children’s emotional well-being,” Dr. Lagattuta said. To check this theory, the researchers assessed kids’ views of their own emotions with a picture-based rating scale.

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In children between the ages of 4 to 11, the study found that parents consistently rated their children as being less anxious and more optimistic—on topics like being scared of the dark or a tragedy occurring in the family—than the children rated themselves. The discrepancy in the reports revealed that observational evaluations of children must be handled with care.

Have you ever been surprised to find that your child was anxious or upset when you thought she was fine?  Leave a comment and let us know!