How parents treat anxious kids actually decides if they will be able to cope with fear or not when they grow. The key to a more confident kid is to prevent them from falling into the "protection trap" say researchers at Arizona State University (ASU).
In the study, researchers analyzed self-report questionnaires and clinical interviews that were completed by 70 children aged between 6 to 16 who were being treated for anxiety at a university-based program.
Researcher and ASU graduate student Lindsay Holly says, "Anxiety in kids is one of the most common disorders in childhood. A certain amount of anxiety is normal and necessary to stay safe. It's when the problematic levels of anxiety crop up when you can't go to school or hang out with friends that it becomes a major problem."
This is when parents are most likely to fall into the 'protection trap' with scared children which maybe helpful momentarily, but reinforces their long-term feelings when the kids realize that they receive positive attention from the behavior. The study showed behaviors that may enable anxiety through reinforcement, punishment, and modeling.
The research recommends that parents should be alert to the signs of anxiety and help children overcome their worries with some simple strategies.
Children often demonstrate their anxiety in different ways. Many ask questions that reveal what is troubling them — questions about their school the bus, the classroom, the teacher, their classmates, the new things they'll be learning.
Others will exhibit changes in behavior as the first day of school approaches — nervous habits, such as biting their nails or pulling their hair; trouble sleeping; complaints of ailments such as stomach aches or headaches; or uncharacteristic changes in temperament, such as irritability or clinging.
Holly emphasized, "In such situations, reassurance in the face of anxiety and fear sometimes gives the message that there is something dangerous to worry about, thereby preventing from situations that are perceived to be scary. They aren't given the chance to develop the coping skills or strategies to deal with the situation appropriately,"
Researchers identified another aspect of "protection trap" is that the more a child avoids a situation that may be scary, the scarier it becomes because they do not have a chance to overcome it. At other times parents take over and do the scary thing for their children who still remain anxious.
The research advises parents to monitor how their own reaction to their child's anxiety affects their kids, finding out the best ways to respond and giving their children positive attention when they do something brave or face their fears in scary situations.
The study was published in the journal Child Psychiatry and Human Development