Because anxiety disorders tend to develop at such young ages and can potentially persist throughout the duration of a person’s entire lifespan, it is important to find out just how early an anxiety disorder can begin to emerge in an individual’s life and what types of factors influence this development. Some research has shown that symptoms can begin to appear in children as young as preschool age, leading researchers Hudson and Dodd (2012) to conduct a longitudinal study with children three to four years of age. The researchers conducted interviews and questionnaires with kids and their mothers about specific variables that could influence the onset of an anxiety disorder and then followed up five years later to determine if those variables may have been contributing factors after all. The five baseline measures included: a parent report of the child’s behavioral inhibition using the Short Temperament Scale for Children (STSC) approach scale; researcher-observed behavioral inhibition in the child; child anxiety using the Anxiety Disorders Interview Schedule for DSM-IV; maternal anxiety disorders using the same criteria as for child anxiety; maternal overinvolvement and negativity using the Parent Protection Scale and Five Minute Speech Sample; and child-mother attachment, using the preschool version of the Strange-Situation procedure (Hudson & Dodd, 2012).
The researchers found that behavioral inhibition in preschool predicted an anxiety disorder diagnosis five years later, and they also found that the mother’s diagnosis of an anxiety disorder, whether the diagnosis be current or was present at some previous point in her life, also predicted the child’s later diagnosis (Hudson & Dodd, 2012). Furthermore, many of the children showed symptoms of anxiety disorders in the initial phase of the research at ages three and four, which is not an uncommon finding in anxiety disorder research–but when the Hudson and Dodd controlled for this initial anxiety, behavioral inhibition still proved to be a “significant predictor of anxiety” (Hudson & Dodd, 2012).
Identifying signs of anxiety disorders early in life is important for figuring out who may be most vulnerable to these conditions, as well as for helping to avoid any further progression of potentially debilitating anxiety disorders in these children’s lives. As a teaching assistant in a preschool, I found this journal article particularly interesting and relevant to my own life. Just as well, even though I knew from prior reading that anxiety disorders can develop young, I always thought of mental health disorders as affecting adults because I myself am an adult, so this journal article makes me keep in mind the fact that some of the children I’m working with may be susceptible to developing mental health disorders themselves. Mental health is always important to consider for all individuals, and this research by Hudson and Dodd helps to remind us of that.
Hudson, J.L., Dodd, H.F. (2012). Informing Early Intervention: Preschool Predictors of Anxiety Disorders in Middle Childhood. PLoS ONE 7(8): e42359. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0042359.