THURSDAY, March 14 (HealthDay News) -- Children who avoid scary situations are more likely to have anxiety, according to researchers who developed a new way to assess avoidance behavior in youngsters.
The Mayo Clinic study included more than 800 children, aged 7 to 18, and used two eight-question surveys, one for parents and one for children.
The parents' survey asks about their children's tendencies to avoid scary situations. For example: "When your child is scared or worried about something, does he or she ask to do it later?"
The children's survey asks them to describe their avoidance habits. For example: "When I feel scared or worried about something, I try not to go near it."
Children who tried to avoid scary situations at the start of the study were more likely than other children to have anxiety a year later, according to the study published online March 4 in the journal Behavior Therapy.
"This new approach may enable us to identify kids who are at risk for an anxiety disorder," study lead author Stephen Whiteside, a pediatric psychologist with the Mayo Clinic Children's Center, said in a Mayo news release.
"And further, because cognitive behavior therapy focuses on decreasing avoidance behaviors, our approach may also provide a means to evaluate whether current treatment strategies work [the way] we think they do," he added.
Whiteside said 25 children with anxiety underwent counseling that slowly exposed them to situations that caused fears. This led to a decline in their avoidance scores.
"Kids who avoid fearful situations don't have the opportunity to face their fears and don't learn that their fears are manageable," Whiteside explained.
SOURCE: Mayo Clinic, news release, March 11, 2013