Understanding preschool anxiety disorders

Understanding preschool anxiety disorders

Nancy (name changed) shouted at her five-year-old daughter Delta to wear her school shoes, at the same time packing her lunch. When she didn’t get any response, she looked for Delta and noticed that the girl was hiding in the closet, weeping. During the initial days, Delta would complain of upset stomach and headache, or exhibit behavior indicating she didn’t want to go to school. Gradually, her excuses became a regular phenomenon, pointing to an underlying problem.

Anxiety is a common mental health concern, not only for adults but also for children of different age groups. In fact, nearly 20 percent preschoolers aged 3-4 are affected by anxiety disorders. They become irritable, aggressive and unreasonably fearful of their environment. With time, the disorder starts interfering with their development and if left untreated, causes lifetime impairment. There’s a good chance that several cases of child anxiety go undiagnosed and untreated as parents, teachers or caregivers might feel that changes in behavior are normal while growing up.

While genetics and environmental influences play a dominant role in causing childhood anxiety, lack of good parenting, unfavorable circumstances and disturbances at home can increase the risk of anxiety disorders. Therefore, it is crucial to identify the risk and seek early treatment.

Assessing anxiety disorders among preschoolers

A study published in the Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, used structured diagnostic interviews of both children and their parents to scrutinize anxiety-related problems among preschoolers. The research, led by Lea Dougherty from University of Maryland College Park along with other authors, evaluated developmental trajectories of preschool anxiety disorders over time.

Using questionnaires, semi-structured interviews and laboratory observations, preschoolers with and without anxiety disorders were assessed on the basis of demographic and clinical characteristics, temperament, parental psychopathology, parenting techniques, family history of mental health conditions and life stress. The team found the presence of anxiety disorders, extending from separation anxiety disorder to selective mutism, that alter communication in certain social settings. They also detected symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The preschoolers were evaluated based on a two-hour study which was designed to prompt the child to exhibit a range of emotions and behaviors characteristic of anxiety disorders. The participants were left in a room with a stranger and also got a chance to play with new, exciting toys. Each episode was recorded through a one-way mirror for later coding. Coding is the process of labelling the observations in order to compare and analyze data. 90 percent of parents and preschoolers also took part in another lab session to help researchers analyze interaction between them.

The findings revealed that 106 preschoolers were suffering from an anxiety disorder and were more likely to have depression, sleep problems, behavioral problems and oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)—a condition identified from defiant and disobedient behavior that lasts for more than six months.

In addition, Lea and her team found that parents who had children with an anxiety disorder were less supportive as compared to those whose children did not exhibit any anxiety symptoms. The team identified five key factors that contributed to anxiety in preschoolers: stressful life events, childhood depression, sleep troubles, time spent in day care and behavior problems.

Treating an anxious child

The best way to help your child is to acknowledge the problem in a supportive and nonjudgmental way. Parents need to be sensitive to a child’s needs and act patiently in understanding their behavior and feelings. By acting like a friend and not as an authority figure and keeping the communication gates open, parents can make a child feel at ease and share his or her problems easily.

If you know someone who is suffering from an anxiety disorder, contact the Anxiety Treatment Centers of California to get guidance on the best anxiety disorders treatment centers in California that offer therapeutic treatment programs along with medication to treat the affected individuals holistically. If you are looking for state-of-the-art anxiety treatment centers in California equipped with evidence-based plans, call at our 24/7 helpline 855-972-9459 or chat online with a representative.

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