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Parents' verbal communication to their child, particularly the expression of fear-relevant information (e.g., attributions of threat to the environment), is considered to play a key role in children's fears and anxiety. This review considers the extent to which parental verbal communication is associated with child anxiety by examining research that has employed objective observational methods. Using a systematic search strategy, we identified 15 studies that addressed this question. These studies provided some evidence that particular fear-relevant features of parental verbal communication are associated with child anxiety under certain conditions. However, the scope for drawing reliable, general conclusions was limited by extensive methodological variation between studies, particularly in terms of the features of parental verbal communication examined and the context in which communication took place, how child anxiety was measured, and inconsistent consideration of factors that may moderate the verbal communication-child anxiety relationship. We discuss ways in which future research can contribute to this developing evidence base and reduce further methodological inconsistency so as to inform interventions for children with anxiety problems.

Original publication




Journal article


Clin Child Fam Psychol Rev

Publication Date





55 - 75


Child anxiety, Parenting, Verbal communication, Anxiety, Fear, Humans, Parent-Child Relations, Verbal Behavior