The Reality of Preschool Anxiety Disorders

Most people think that younger children can’t have anxiety. They think that because children do not have much of a life experience, what do they have to be anxious about? The truth is very different. Almost 20% of pre-schoolers (aged 3 to 4) have an anxiety condition. Anxiety can be linked with depression and problems with behaviour and sleeping. Due to this, it is important to treat the condition as early as possible.

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A study published in the ‘Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology’ explores diagnosis of anxiety in pre-schoolers using structured interviews. This included both the pre-schoolers and their parents. The authors, led by Lea Dougherty from University of Maryland College Park, looked at whether there was an anxiety disorder or not and then they looked at what other thinks might be linked to there being a diagnosis of anxiety.

The structured interview was designed to collect information ranging from parenting techniques to family history of mental health conditions. It was also designed to screen for anxiety disorders in this group of children. Using these data Lea and her team explored the links between certain factors and anxiety disorders in pre-schoolers. The interviews could detect the presence of any anxiety disorder, ranging from separation anxiety disorder to selective mutism which alters communication in certain social settings.

The interviews could also diagnose Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (a condition where the child has intrusive thoughts, repetitive, unwanted thoughts). The interviewers also screened for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. ADHD is made up of problems focusing and directing attention and hyperactivity. The interviews also assessed 41 events that could be traumatic for a child, including sleep related problems such as nightmares. Only the parents were interviewed using the structured schedule.

The pre-schoolers took part in a two-hour study using of various scenarios designed to detect if the child has an anxious disposition or not. The researchers prompt the child to show a range of emotion and behaviours through these scenarios. The study included leaving the participants in a room with a stranger and playing with new, exciting toys. The episodes were each recorded through a one-way mirror for later coding. Coding is the process of labelling the observations made by the researchers so that the data can be compared and analyzed.

This article was originally published by PsychCentral.

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When anxious kids are having trouble calming down, redirecting their focus can be helpful. Discover the ‘Best Toys and Gifts for Five Year Old Boys’ and browse a range of toys that can help a child to concentrate, change focus or get active.