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Scared kids might develop anxiety

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Most children love the thrill of a rollercoaster, the horror of a scary book or movie, and the ghoulish delight of a ghost train.

But those who have a strong dislike of these activities could be more likely to have issues with anxiety later in life, QUT research has found.

The finding came in a recent survey, handed out to mothers, fathers and children. It asked children if they enjoyed scary activities, and asked parents if they considered their children excessively fearful.

Just 18 per cent of children questioned said they did not enjoy the activities listed, a match for the number of parents who said they thought their children were excessively fearful.

"Something as small as this may signify that they have problems with anxiety," said Dr Marilyn Campbell, a senior lecturer in Queensland University of Technology’s Faculty of Education, who completed the study along with Dr Linda Gilmore, also a senior lecturer in the Faculty.

"There is a definite correlation with general fearfulness and anxiety, and not enjoying these scary sorts of activities which are considered fun by most children.

"While it is by no means a diagnosis, it is something which may indicate that parents need to keep an eye on their children to make sure they are not dealing with anxiety issues.

"Anxiety is a terrible thing to suffer through life, and impedes what a person can do, so the earlier we can identify anxiety in kids and teach them to cope, the better."

For parents who think their children might have a problem with excessive anxiety, Dr Campbell said gradual and consistent desensitisation was the best way to help them overcome fears.

"Giving children coping strategies to deal with their fear of things like ghost trains and scary rides, and helping them overcome that is important," she said.

"For example, parents could sit with their child on an ordinary train first, then sit with them somewhere dark, then perhaps have games where people jump out and say boo – gradual ways to decrease fear."

She said an increased fear for children’s safety and parents who are generally fearful can also increase the risk of children developing anxiety issues.

"The problem now is a lot of parents can tend to wrap their children in cotton wool, because parents can be quite scared of the world as well, and that can rub off on children," she said.

"It is important that kids are not taught to see the world as an overwhelmingly scary place."

(Source: Queensland University of Technology: August 2008)

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Posted On: 5 August, 2008
Modified On: 16 January, 2014


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