Most young children experience anxiety or fear in uncomfortable situations. Almost all kindergartners are a little apprehensive on their first day of school. But Kristin Buss, of Penn State University, wanted to see if these fearful behaviors were a precursor for future anxiety issues. She said, “The exact mechanisms by which individual differences in fearful behavior develop into anxiety symptoms are still largely unknown; so it remains unclear which fearful children are at particular risk and why.” Her study was based on answering several questions, one of which was, “Is it the intensity with which children experience fear or how children express fear across different situation that predicts risk?”
To find out, Buss conducted a study that followed 111 two year olds for several years, assessing their levels of fear and anxiety, through the first few months of their kindergarten experience. At each assessment, the mothers were present with their children. Buss used tools to measure anxiety at various episodes designed to elicit either high or low withdrawal and fear responses. The episodes consisted of a risk room, puppet shows, clown interactions and stranger experiences, with an equal number of boys and girls participating in each of the 12 randomly assigned episodes. Buss relied on preschool and toddler versions of the Laboratory Temperament Assessment Battery, along with other procedures, to collect her data. Buss assessed the children again at ages three and four, using a mailed questionnaire. The parents were asked to complete an additional assessment when the children entered kindergarten. The data suggests that anxious behaviors may develop not as a result of fearful episodes, but the context in which children experience them. Buss said, “Results supported the hypothesis that elevated anxious behaviors in preschool and kindergarten were predicted by a dysregulated fear profile characterized by high fear in low-threat contexts when children were age 2 and that this was true over and above the effects of general level of fear or inhibition.” She hopes these findings will help children who may be at risk for anxiety issues. She concluded, “These findings have implications for the methods used to identify fearful children who may be at risk for developing anxiety-related problems.”
Buss, Kristin A. “Which Fearful Toddlers Should We Worry About? Context, Fear Regulation, and Anxiety Risk.” Developmental Psychology 47.3 (2011): 804-19. Print.
© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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