Anxiety should be addressed as early as kindergarten: Hamilton-based researchers

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Published June 8, 2022 at 5:21 pm

Anxiety should be addressed as early as kindergarten: Hamilton-based researchers
Anxiety should be addressed in kindergarten, say Hamilton-based researchers. Chldren with anxiety are six times more likely to be vulnerable in other areas.

Addressing anxiety as early as kindergarten could reduce its harmful impacts, say Hamilton-based researchers.

Children with anxiety symptoms are six times more likely to be vulnerable in other areas of their development than those with very few of these symptoms.

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“Our results demonstrate that a child showing signs of anxiety in kindergarten should not be ignored,” according to Caroline Reid-Westoby and Magdalena Janus, researchers at the Offord Centre for Child Studies in the department of psychiatry and behavioural neurosciences at McMaster University.

Reid-Westoby, Janus, and their team conducted a population-wide study of kindergarten-age children attending public schools across Canada between 2004 and 2015.

“To our knowledge, this study provided the first Canada-wide snapshot of anxiety symptoms among children as they enter school,” they wrote for McMaster’s Brighter World.

Researchers identified anxiety using a teacher-completed checklist that measures five main domains of development: physical health and well-being; social competence; emotional maturity; language and cognitive development; and communication skills and general knowledge.

“Under these five domains are 16 subdomains, including an anxious and fearful subdomain that falls under the emotional maturity domain, and includes symptoms of anxiety,” they wrote. “We used this in our study to classify children as highly anxious.”


Anxiety should be addressed as early as kindergarten: Hamilton-based researchers


Researchers found that almost three per cent of kindergarteners in Canada were rated as being highly anxious by their teachers.

Children with anxiety can experience adverse effects on their development. They may avoid situations that make them feel anxious, possibly limiting their experiences and interrupting their emotional growth.

However, the research on young children is limited.

“Information about the prevalence of anxiety disorders in young children is quite limited compared to what’s known about older children,” according to Reid-Westoby and Janus. “There is also limited evidence about how symptoms of anxiety in young children may be related to aspects of their development that are important for succeeding in school.”

According to researchers, anxiety rates in children have increased since 2020, coinciding with the COVID-19 pandemic and the closure of schools.

“This study also provides an estimate of the prevalence of anxiety symptoms among kindergarten-aged children in Canada. These could, in future, serve as a baseline for comparing groups of children after the COVID-19 pandemic,” they add.

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