Department of Psychology

Current Research

Protective Factors for Child Anxiety Study

This research study is examining several protective factors for child anxiety. Although protective factors can be identified at the level of the individual, family, community, or society, this study will be focusing on individual and family protective factors for the development of anxiety in children. Some examples of individual-level protective influences include a child’s temperament. Family-level factors consist of the parenting style used at home, the parent-child relationship, and the parents’ thoughts and feelings. This study is intended to assist researchers in finding out more about (1) how parents and families can help shape the way a child thinks and feels about life events and (2) the kinds of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that are associated with child anxiety. Further study in each of these two areas will help researchers to better understand child anxiety, develop more effective anxiety prevention programs, and identify the signs of child anxiety earlier. As such, this study aims to gather information from children and their parents to find out more about child anxiety and how it is related to the way parents and children think and feel about things in their lives. 

This study assesses mothers, fathers, and children in which the child is aged 7 to 18. Children are asked to independently fill out several questionnaires, which are completed in groups at school. The child questionnaires ask children to report on their own experience of anxiety, depression, stress, and the way they think about life events. Research assistants meet with children at the school to assist them with completing the questionnaires. Parents interested in taking part of the study complete a set of parent questionnaires at home online. The parent questionnaires ask parents to report on their own experience of anxiety, depression, stress, the way they think about life events, and how their family gets along.

Transmission of Anxious Symptomatology from Parents to Children

This research is guided by three specific aims: (1) identifying parent, child, and family factors that play a role in the development and maintenance of anxiety disorders among youth, (2) developing psychometrically sound assessment instruments to validly measure these factors, and (3) using these assessment instruments to expand existing theories of the nature of anxiety among children and adolescents. Heritability studies, learning theory, and social-cognitive theories have provided a wealth of information with respect to better understanding factors that initiate and sustain anxiety. However, few clinically useful assessment instruments that are specifically applicable to youth and families have emerged out of this body of research, despite the articulation of a need for such instruments. As such, a primary focus of this work is to develop instruments designed to measure familial psychosocial variables relevant to the development and maintenance of anxiety disorders among youth. In particular, these instruments will be designed for ease of use by clinicians to identify targets of treatment and measure treatment progress, both during and following treatment.

One key part of this intergenerational transmission research is to develop a parent-report instrument designed to assess parental beliefs about child anxiety that serve to initiate or sustain heightened levels of anxious symptomatology. Toward this end, we developed the Parental Beliefs about Anxiety Questionnaire (PBA-Q) which assesses specific cognitions that parents might have in relation to their child’s experience of symptoms of anxiety. Initial psychometric evaluation of this instrument indicated that it demonstrated good reliability and validity in a clinical sample of children and adolescents, correlating with both parental anxiety and child anxiety. Moreover, the construct of parental beliefs about anxiety was found to mediate the relationship between parental and child anxiety, such that this construct appears to be one of the factors that explain the transmission of anxious beliefs and behaviors from parents to their children.

Continued investigation of the PBA-Q seeks to evaluate its reliability and validity in additional clinical samples as well as normal school-based samples of youth. Further study of the mediational role of parental beliefs about anxiety in the transmission of anxious symptomatology from parent to child also seeks to study the role of this construct in the context of other related variables, including parental and child anxiety sensitivity.

Related Publications:

Francis, S. E. (2014). The role of parental anxiety sensitivity in parent reports of child anxiety in treatment seeking families. Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 19, 111-124. doi: 10.1177/1359104512470055

Francis, S. E., & Chorpita, B. F (2010). Development and evaluation of the Parental Beliefs about Anxiety Questionnaire. Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, 32, 138-149. doi:10.1007/s10862-009-9133-5

Francis, S. E., & Chorpita, B. F. (2011). Parental beliefs about child anxiety as a mediator of parent and child anxiety. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 35, 21-29. doi:10.1007/s10608-009-9255-9

Related Presentations:

Noël, V. A.*, Fung, S. L.*, Williams-Outerbridge, K.*, Rowsell, M.,* & Francis, S. E. (2011, November). Parent and child depression: The cross generation relationship in a clinical and non-clinical sample. Poster presented at the annual meeting of the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, Toronto, ON.

Fung, S. L.*, Noël, V. A.*, & Francis, S. E. (2010, November). The relationship among parental beliefs about anxiety, child anxiety sensitivity, and child anxiety. Poster presented at the annual meeting of the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, San Francisco, CA.

Fung, S. L.*, Francis, S. E., & Noël, V.* (2010, June). The influence of maternal stress and number of children on maternal anxiety sensitivity (AS). Poster presented at the annual meeting of the Canadian Psychological Association, Winnipeg, MB.

Noël, V.*, Francis, S. E., Williams, K.*, & Fung, S. L.* (2010, June). Factors associated with academic performance in children diagnosed with a mental disorder. Poster presented at the annual meeting of the Canadian Psychological Association, Winnipeg, MB.

Williams, K.*, Noël, V.*, & Francis, S. E. (2010, June). An examination of familial structure and depressive symptoms in children. Poster presented at the annual meeting of the Canadian Psychological Association, Winnipeg, MB.

Noël, V.*, Hall, J.*, & Francis, S. E. (2009, November). Does parental anxiety contribute uniquely to child anxiety sensitivity? Poster presented at the annual meeting of the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, New York, NY.

Williams, K.*, Francis, S. E., & Hall, J.* (2009, November). Investigating the relationship between parental affect and child internalizing disorders. Poster presented at the annual meeting of the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, New York, NY.

Duffett, M. I.*, Francis, S. E., Noël, V. A.*, Lougheed, M. H.*, Bonnell, W., & Rajan, R. (2008, November). Predicting child anxiety: The influence of parental beliefs about anxiety and parental stress. Poster presented at the annual meeting of the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, Orlando, FL.

Noël, V. A.*, Francis, S. E., Brinston, H.*, White, H., St. John, K. (2008, November). Parental anxiety sensitivity: A predictor of childhood anxiety?
 Poster presented at the annual meeting of the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, Orlando, FL.

Noël, V.*, Hall, J.*, & Francis, S. E. (2008, November). The relationship between parental affect and disruptive behaviour in predicting child anxiety. Poster presented at the annual meeting of the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, Orlando, FL.

The Role of Anxiety Sensitivity in the Transmission of Anxious Cognitions and Behaviors from Parents to Children

The construct of parental beliefs about anxiety refers to specific beliefs that parents might hold about their child’s experience of anxiety, particularly the notion that anxiety is harmful for the child. This construct is closely related to the construct of anxiety sensitivity, which is defined as the fear of anxiety-related symptoms (e.g., a fast beating heart) and the consequences that may follow from these symptoms (e.g., a heart attack). However, parental beliefs focuses on the harmful nature of symptoms of anxiety for the child rather than for the individual him or herself. As such, a very salient area of inquiry is the extent to which parental beliefs about anxiety is related to the parent’s own anxiety sensitivity and how parental anxiety sensitivity relates to not only child anxiety but to child anxiety sensitivity as well. Accordingly, we seek to examine the construct of anxiety sensitivity in both parents and their children in the context of a network of related variables, including temperamental, cognitive, and behavioral risk factors. The intent of this line of research is to not only gain a contextualized understanding of anxiety sensitivity amongst children and adolescents, but to also evaluate parental contributions to this construct and to the child’s experience of symptoms of anxiety.

Our research team is currently writing up for publication data yielded from the behavioral observation component of this study. These findings will guide subsequent planned studies involving children and their families in the Toledo area.

Related Publications:

Rowsell, M.*, Doyle, S.*, & Francis, S. E. (2016). The role of BIS sensitivity in the relationship between family enmeshment and child anxiety. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 25, 2585-2596. doi: 10.1007/s10826-016-0415-8

Francis, S. E., & Noël, V.* (2010). Parental contributions to child anxiety sensitivity: A review and recommendations for future directions. Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 41, 595-613. doi:10.1007/s10578-010-0190-5

Related Presentations:

Rowsell, M.*, Noël, V. A.*, Francis, S. E., & Doyle, S.* (2013, June). Assessing family and cognitive variables in child social anxiety. Poster presented at the annual meeting of the Canadian Psychological Association, Quebec City, QC.

Francis, S., Williams-Outerbridge, K.*, Fung, S.*, Duffett, M.*, & Noel, V.* (2012, June). Parenting practices and internalizing symptoms in children. Symposium conducted at the annual meeting of the Canadian Psychological Association, Halifax, NS.

The Prevention of Anxiety in Children and Adolescents

Seminal work on the prevention of anxiety in children was initiated in Australia (The FRIENDS Program), and has subsequently been implemented in multiple countries throughout the world, including New Zealand, the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, and Canada. Researchers in these varied cultural and sociodemographic regions are currently working to evaluate the efficacy, effectiveness, and applicability of this primary prevention program for youth in real-world settings. We have engaged in this ongoing effort to institute universal primary prevention programs for childhood anxiety by investigating the ecological validity and generalizability of this program when implemented in a Canadian school system. Specifically, our research assessed key parental (depression, anxiety, stress, anxiety sensitivity, beliefs about anxiety) and child (anxiety, depression, anxiety sensitivity, strengths and difficulties) factors to evaluate not only the effect of this prevention program on child functioning (assessing both symptom variables as well as protective factors such as resiliency, coping, and self-concept) but also to investigate whether parental factors play a role in determining child responses to the program. We also evaluated the social validity and acceptability of this program for both children and their parents and assessed the fidelity of the group facilitators to the prevention program protocol. The data yielded from this project will inform multiple theoretical and applied questions including: (1) the influence of this universal prevention program for child anxiety on parental cognitions relevant to their child’s anxiety, (2) the effect of child participation in this program on their parents’ anxiety and associated cognitions and behaviors, (3) the short- and long-term influences of this program on children’s strengths and difficulties in this particular geographic region, and (4) the acceptability of this universal prevention program to local parents, children, and school-based professionals.

Our research team is currently presenting findings from this research project, with additional manuscripts for submission in preparation. We plan to seek to extend this research to school settings in the Toledo area.

Last Updated: 8/8/17