Study predicts anxiety in children

All children experience fears as they grow up, it is simply part of the developmental process and a natural reaction to a great big world not yet understood.

When children begin avoiding the things and situations that scare them, the fears can seriously interfere with participation in everyday activities. For some, normal fears about new situations or experiences can become a more serious and long-lasting problem if they develop into an anxiety disorder.

It has long been thought that avoidance behaviour and anxiety disorders go hand in hand. Now a new study out of the Mayo Clinic is confirming this when it comes to children.

More than 800 children between the ages of seven and 18 took part in this study, which dealt specifically with tendencies to avoid feared situations. After taking data from both the children themselves and their parents, researchers found that measuring avoidance could also predict the future development of an anxiety disorder.

It turns out that children who avoid feared situations are likely to have anxiety.

In this study (published in the journal Behavior Therapy), children who showed avoidance behaviours at the beginning of the study period were more likely to be anxious a year later.

Researchers are pleased because the tools developed for this study may become useful in identifying children who are at risk for an anxiety disorder and could help parents and professionals to manage fears before they become truly problematic in the life of a child.

Aside from predicting the likelihood of anxiety, this study also showed that cognitive behavior therapy to reduce avoidance behaviour truly helped. Twenty-five anxious children were surveyed after receiving cognitive behaviour therapy to slowly expose them to feared situations. Their avoidance decreased by half.

This study has created some useful tools and also proven a long-held belief about the connection between avoidance and anxiety. It serves as a good reminder for parents dealing with fear in children as well.

While we all want to protect our kids and should do what we can to keep them safe, it is not always in their best interest to shield them from every fear or endlessly accommodate them if they do not want to try a new thing or face a particular situation.

Although we may help them to feel better in the short term, when we accommodate our children in this way we can serve to cement fears. Instead of shielding our children in a helpful way, we may hinder them from learning to manage the fears that are part of life.

If you think your child's fears have already gone beyond what is normal, speak with your doctor. Proven techniques do exist to help alleviate anxiety even in children and dealing with it at a young age could save years of difficulty.


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