Familial and psychological factors associated with separation anxiety in the preschool child
Provet, Anne Gersony
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Childhood separation anxiety has been linked to stressful life events in the family, maternal depression and anxiety which engenders anxiety in the child, as well as various adult psychopathologies including panic disorder and agoraphobia which may have a familial association with the childhood disorder. It has further been proposed that the child's capacity to separate without anxiety is founded on an ability to form stable internal representations of caregivers, an ability founded on basic memory skills. The current study examines the relationship between separation anxiety in the preschool child and maternal depression and anxiety, family history of anxiety and affective disorders, and life events. It also evaluates the memory functioning of the child as it relates to separation anxiety. The subjects were 45 preschool children selected from a nursery school in Spring Valley, New York. Degree of separation anxiety was determined by parent interview with the Diagnostic Interview for Children and Adolescents and teacher and mother global ratings which include an assessment of current functioning as well a retrospective report of behavior during the first month of school. Maternal and family histories were assessed with the non-patient version of the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IIIR; life events with the Psychiatric Epidemiology Research Interview, Life Events Scale. The McCarthy Scales of Children's Abilities was used to assess the child's memory. Results suggest that a diagnosis of separation anxiety in the child is associated with the mother's report of separation anxiety in her childhood and with a family history of affective and anxiety disorders; family histories of panic disorder and agoraphobia were not, however, related to separation anxiety in the child. The child with separation anxiety at the start of the school year was more likely to have a positive family history of anxiety while the child who had these symptoms at the end of the year was more likely to be depressed and to have a family history of affective disorder. Children with high levels of separation anxiety had fewer life events and physical separation from parents. The child's memory skills did not correlate with separation anxiety.
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