Around twenty percent of children and adolescents have some form of anxiety. As of result, anxiety disorders are a common psychological ailment in today’s youth (Donovan). These forms of anxiety are certainly debilitating and can have negative consequences on a child as he or she develops (Donovan). Therefore, it is critical that steps are taken to prevent the initiation as well as development of these disorders as children grow up. What’s certainly interesting is that there are certain risk factors associated with this development of anxiety-related disorders. Thus, knowledge and avoidance of these factors can play a role in preventing the development of anxiety disorders in growing children.
Risk factors can be biological, environmental, or psychological in origin (Donovan). One such factor is the quality of attachment between infants and their primary caregivers (Donovan). For instance, anxious-resistant attachment in young children around a year of age (Donovan). Anxious-resistant attachment occurs when a child is wary of strangers and feels distressed in the presence of strangers even when his or her parents are around (Donovan). Additionally, parental anxiety is also a risk factor for childhood anxiety. Put simply, children with parents suffering from anxiety are more likely to also develop anxiety (Donovan). What remains unclear is whether the mode through with the anxiety develops in the child is due to genetics or through environment (Donovan).
Traumatic, negative, and stressful life events can also play a role in the development of anxiety (Donovan). Following a traumatic event, children are likely to avoid any stimuli that relate to the initial trauma. In addition, children may “demonstrate avoidance behaviors, somatic complaints, depression, sleep disturbance, and intrusive experiences” which foster feelings of anxiety and eventually, can develop into an anxiety disorder (Donovan). Some examples of traumatic events include natural disasters, fires, etc. Additionally, stressful or negative life events such as parental divorce and separation, death, and moving from school to school can also be a risk factor for children (Donovan). Furthermore, the behavior of parents can also have an impact on children and could subsequently lead to the development of anxiety (Donovan). That is, parents who are overprotective, overly controlling, and overly critical could promote the manifestation of such disorders (Donovan).
There are also several protective factors that serve in inhibiting the development of anxiety-disorders. For instance, healthy coping skills, can play a role in the prevention of such mental illnesses especially following trauma and stress (Donovan). One form of coping, problem-focused coping, can be of great use following such events (Donovan). Problem-focused coping refers to “strategies that directly address, or minimize, the effect of the problem and include such strategies as positive self-talk and seeking out information” (Donovan). In essence, following such traumatic events, individuals with such methods of coping are able to deal with the event and its effects by positive self-encouragement as well as by seeking out help and support in the midst of trouble.
Having a strong social support network is another protective factor that can hinder the development of anxiety (Donovan). The benefits of a strong support network could not be overstated in the prevention of anxiety disorders not only in children and adolescents, but also in adults. When individuals are faced with trauma or stressful situations, social support can aid in alleviating the subsequent anxiety, emotional distress and grief associated with the event (Donovan). Social support is always important for children as the stress and change of growing up is an unavoidable fact of life.
Furthermore, such support networks can also serve a vital role in improving the conditions of individuals who are already facing a mental illness—not limited to anxiety/anxiety-related disorders. Children with a strong support network have supportive and attentive parents, friends who are able to bolster and uplift the individual with the mental illness, and health care professionals who are capable of dealing with mental health issues. These networks can be a source of strength for those with mental illnesses, and also can serve to improve the lives of these individuals by being there in their time of need. Moreover, support could lessen the stigmas these individuals face. That is to say, support from family, friends, or healthcare providers could clear up misconceptions and confusions that the individual may have regarding their illness or trauma. It could improve their self-perception and prevent self-stigma—both of which only serves to deter treatment and recovery.
Donovan, Caroline L., and Susan H. Spence. “Prevention of Childhood Anxiety Disorders.” ScienceDirect. Clinical Psychology Review, June 2000. Web. 01 Apr. 2015.