Verbal information transfer in real-life: When mothers worry about their child starting school

Laura Pass, Kiki Mastroyannopoulou, Sian Coker, Lynne Murray, Helen Dodd

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Verbal information transfer, one of Rachman’s three pathways to fear, may be one way in which vulnerability for anxiety may be transmitted from parents to children. A community sample of mothers and their preschool-aged children (N = 65) completed observational tasks relating to the child starting school. Mothers were asked to tell their child about social aspects of school; then children completed a brief play assessment involving ambiguous, school-based social scenarios. Mothers completed self-report questionnaires on social anxiety symptoms, general anxiety and depressive symptoms as well as a questionnaire on child anxiety symptoms and indicated whether they were personally worried about their child starting school. There was a significant difference in the information given to children about school between mothers who stated they were worried and those who stated they were not, with mothers who were worried more likely to mention unresolved threat, use at least one anxiety-related word, and show clear/consistent negativity (all ps < .01). Significant associations were also found between the emotional tone of mothers’ descriptions of school and children’s own representations of school. These findings support the theory that the information mothers give to their child may be influenced by their own concerns regarding their child, and that this verbal information affects child representations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2324–2334
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Child and Family Studies
Issue number8
Early online date6 May 2017
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2017


  • Information transfer
  • Children
  • Parents
  • Anxiety
  • School transition

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