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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    How do I not pass on anxiety, depression and OCD behaviours to my children?

    What are the most effective ways to prevent my children from developing mental health issues when they are prominent in my family? They are only young (under 5) and it's always in my mind that they are learning how to cope with life by watching me! Besides modelling healthy behaviours and creating a safe, secure environment, living them etcetera, what do I need to be aware of? What should I avoid?
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    Dr Janine Clarke

    Clinical Psychologist, Psychologist

    Dr Janine Clarke is a Clinical Psychologist with experience working with individuals and couples. Janine has trained extensively in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and … View Profile

    Your children are very lucky to have a parent who places such a high value on their emotional health and wellbeing, and who recognises and meets their basic needs for safety, security and love.

    The risk factors for mental health problems include a range of biological, psychological and social/environmental factors.  In other words, it is not inevitable that children with a family history of mental health issues will go on to struggle with similar difficulties themselves.  

    It sounds like the thougts you are having are painful and distressing, and I'm wondering where they take you?  In other words, how easily can you engage with your children when you are hooked by thoughts about your own mental health and needing to protect them?  What do they lead you to do?  How easy for you is it to relax and be available for your children when you have these thoughts?  

    Parenting is as challenging a role as it is rewarding, and unfortunately it doesn't come with instructions!  There is evidence, however, that when parental warmth and nurturance is balanced with parental limit setting, children do well emotionally and psychologically.  But we won't always get it right!

    If you are finding that your concerns for your children are impacting your ability to parent and/or your parenting satisfaction, then perhaps you would be willing to learn ways to reduce the impact of these thoughts.  Mindfulness techniques, in particular, would seem especially useful.  Mindfulness increases present moment awareness and in doing so reduces the control that unhelpful thoughts have over our behaviour.  As a result, we are better able to engage in behaviours that are meaningful and important.

    I hope this is helpful.


  • I have been working in Eltham, Melbourne as a relationship and family counsellor for over twelve years. I draw on current theory and research about … View Profile

    In addition to the excellent points Janine makes, research shows that parents who are good 'emotion coaches' (this is the ability to be aware of your child's emotion even when it is at a low intensity, to view your child's expressions of emotion as an opportunity for connection and teaching, to listen and accept your child's emotions without judgement, to help your child describe how they feel, and then to help them problem solve and negotiate boundaries if need be) have kids who are 'emotionally intelligent'. Emotional intelligence is shown in research to be linked to the best possible outcomes for kids, not only their social and emotional development, but their mental health as well. The good news is, parents who do this well may still have their own mental health or other issues and these need not negatively affect their kids.

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