Category: Child / Adolescent - Anxiety

PS11- #B55 - Normative versus Developmentally Atypical Anxiety in Preschool-Aged Children

Saturday, Nov 18
12:15 PM – 1:15 PM
Location: Indigo Ballroom CDGH, Level 2, Indigo Level

Keywords: Child Anxiety | Stress | Child

Anxiety often emerges in early childhood and persists. As anxiety in the preschool period can be normative it is unclear when anxious behaviors may be problematic. Persistence of anxiety may discern typical and clinically significant anxiety. Additionally, parental stress has been implicated in risk for anxiety. The current study seeks to examine persistence of anxiety, the levels at which anxiety may be problematic, and associations with parental stress over time.


Participants parents (N = 162) of 3-5-year-old children (53.14% female) who reported about their children’s anxiety via 14-day daily diaries (Time 1) and diagnostic interviews two years later (Preschool Age Psychiatric Assessment; Time 2). Diary items were summed within each group of behavior (social and separation anxiety); in addition, the frequency distribution of each scale was used to create groups. Parents also rated the extent of their stress at both time points.


There was a significant association between Time 1 and Time 2 social anxiety (r=.20,p=.01)but not separation anxiety (r=.04,p>.05). To examine the frequency of Time 1 behavior (IV) associated with Time 2 symptoms (DV), ANOVAs were run. Time 2 social anxiety varied depending on the frequency of Time 1 social anxiety behavior (F(2,160)=4.62,p=.01): post-hoc Sheffé tests revealed that children who showed five or more social anxiety behaviors across 14 days at Time 1 were reported as showing significantly more social anxiety at Time 2 (M=1.10+1.76) compared to children who showed this behavior 1-4 times (M=.40+1.90) or never (M=.17+.56). Time 2 separation anxiety did not vary based on frequency of Time 1 separation anxietybehavior (F(2,160)=.18). Finally, both social and separation anxiety behaviors at Time 1 were associated with parental stress concurrently (rs=.22 & .17,ps < .01,respectively). Only separation anxiety at Time 1 predicted parental stress at Time 2 (r=.25,p=.002); this relationship remained significant when controlling for Time 1 parental stress.


In this study, daily social but not separation anxiety predicted later anxiety. These findings suggest that children may be more likely to “grow out of” their separation anxiety, whereas tendencies toward social anxiety may be more persistent.  In addition, we identified that children demonstrating social anxiety behaviors five or more times over a 14-day period were more likely to display social anxiety behaviors over time; these findings suggest that less frequent demonstrations of social anxiety behaviors during the preschool period are developmentally normative and do not confer clinical risk. Finally, early separation anxiety uniquely predicted parental stress. Although separation anxiety did not persist, these behaviors still contribute to difficulties for the parent and may warrant intervention. 

Kathryn M. Layton

Graduate Student
California State University San Marcos

Claire Sillis

California State University San Marcos

Katherine Leppert

University of Maryland, College Park

Chelsey S. Barrios

Graduate Student
University of Maryland
Washington, District Of Columbia

Sara Bufferd

Assistant Professor
California State University San Marcos

Lea R. Dougherty

Associate Professor
University of Maryland, College Park