The relationship between emotion processes and health in children at-risk for the development of anxiety disorders

While feeling shy, uncertain, or apprehensive with strangers or in new situations is common in young children, an excessive display of these behaviours can negatively affect day-to-day functioning. Disruptions in friendships and social activities, decreased school attendance and performance, and increased family conflict are all common consequences of extreme shyness. Research shows that children who consistently respond in these ways are more likely to develop anxiety disorders later in childhood and adolescence. Furthermore, older children and adults who display this pattern of behaviour have more general health complaints and problems. Sherri Frohlick is conducting a study aimed at understanding the development of these general health complaints by examining the ability of preschool-aged shy children to understand and express different emotions, and determining the effect of this on their health status. Just as being able to identify and communicate different emotions is an important part of healthy psychological growth, not having these skills is linked to emotional and behavioral problems such as depression, anxiety, aggression or other serious forms of psychological dysfunction. By examining emotion identification and communication as processes underlying health complaints and problems in young children, Sherri is working to develop prevention and intervention programs that identify their needs more directly and lessen health concerns. A reduction in health complaints would lessen the burden on a health care system faced with the challenge of diagnosing and treating these problems.