Anxiety and Resilience

Script from podcast


Risk factors associated with anxiety disorders in children

Lisa Harwell

Walden University

Risk factors associated with anxiety disorders in children

Good afternoon community, welcome to this week’s edition of Elle’s World – Everything Education. I’m your narrator, Lisa Harwell.   Last week the discussion topic centered on the importance of attachment, which is extremely important for young children, age zero through eight.  This week I would like to discuss that without healthy attachments and social environments, what are some risk factors that children can be exposed to that could possibly affect their academic success and relationships into adulthood. How can we as educators address these issues to find viable solutions for at risk children?

Anxiety can be described as our emotional uneasiness in stressful situations.  Anxiety, in children,  can be displayed in forms of mild shyness to severe bouts of depression, bed-wetting, anger issues, eating disorders or experimentation in drugs and alcohol as coping mechanisms.  Anxiety disorders can result from a number of factors: social environment, family relations and behavioral (Pantis et al., 2015).  Research reports that children from low-income or dysfunctional families are at a higher risk of developing anxiety disorders (Pantis et al., 2015).  Children begin learning social interaction as early as six months of age.  As toddlers, they began to build their own judgements and expectations about the security of different relationships they develop (Kerns & Brumariu, 2014). For children, healthy attached relationships come with spending quality time, on a consistent basis in order for them to feel secure.  Relationships not built on these premises can contribute to other anxiety disorders, physical ailments or behavioral issues in children.

Traumatic experiences such as physical or sexual abuse and other direct or indirect exposures to violence can trigger anxiety disorders.  At least one child out of every ten children is exposed to some type of physical abuse (Bishop et al., 2014).  Risk factors for children enduring physical abuse can range from eating disorders, bullying, anger management issues and depression.  Often times, the abuser is someone that the child knows, making them fearful of establishing healthy and trusting relationships with other peers or adults.  Repeated exposure to sexual abuse can lead to sexual risk behaviors or addictions beginning in adolescents onto adulthood (Wilson et al., 2014).

The effects of anxiety disorder at an early age can be detrimental if left untreated.  As educators, with the right discussions and tools we can decrease these situations and provide our students with a safe haven in which they can be productive, feel secure and thrive academically and socially.  One of the most important tools we have is communication.  Establishing a strong partnership with parents and support personnel to help identify stressing qualifiers in order to create a plan of action that will help diminish anxiety and build coping mechanisms for children to utilize. Encourage an open door policy in your classrooms.  Allow free time for students to come and discuss their concerns or fears.  Sometimes just listening provides an opportunity for children to work through their anxiety.

More comprehensive intervention programs similar to Friends for Life (Zwaanswijk & Kösters, 2015) teach children how to identify anxiety symptoms along with methods on how to cope through relaxation and other cognitive behavioral skills, such as positive reinforcement in self-respect and confidence building (Kösters et al., 2015).

Experts caution us in our examination of risk factors to include the whole picture before implementing any plans of action.  Every aspect from family, to cultural, local to national environment, as well as the biological factors of the child and parents should weigh into the interplays and interactions of a child’s world (Woolfenden et al., 2015).

Every parent wishes that their children can be shielded from traumatic situations until they reach adulthood.  However our world is dynamic.  Social and economic policies dictate how calm our world remains on a daily basis.  As parents and educators, the best tools we can provide our children are the tools and resources to alleviate risks that compound anxieties in order for them to succeed successfully, both academically and socially.

Thank you for listening to this week’s discussion.  If you would like to comment or need a written copy of this podcast, feel free to visit Elle’s World – Everything Education at




Bishop, M., Rosenstein, D., Bakelaar, S., & Seedat, S. (2014). An analysis of early developmental trauma in social anxiety disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder. Annals of General Psychiatry, 13(1), 1-24

Kerns, K. A., & Brumariu, L. E. (2014). Is insecure parent-child attachment a risk factor for the development of anxiety in childhood or adolescence?  Child Development Perspectives, 8(1), 12-17.

Kösters, M. P., Chinapaw, M. M., Zwaanswijk, M., van der Wal, M. F., & Koot, H. M. (2015). Indicated prevention of childhood anxiety and depression: Results from a practice-based study up to 12 months after intervention. American Journal of Public Health, 105(10), 2005-2013.

Pantis, E., Sipos, R., Predescu, E., & Miclutia, I. (2015).  Assessment of the risk factors involved in  the onset of anxiety disorders in children and adolescents.  Acta Medica Transilvanica, 20(4), 19-22.

Wilson, H., Donenberg, G., & Emerson, E. (2014). Childhood violence exposure and the development of sexual risk in low-income African American girls. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 37(6), 1091-1101.

Woolfenden, S., Williams, K., Eapen, V., Mensah, F., Haven, A., Siddiqi, A., & Kemp, L. (2015).  Developmental vulnerability – don’t investigate without a model in mind. Child Care, Health & Development, 41(3), 337-345.

Zwaanswijk, M., & Kösters, M. P. (2015). Children’s and Parents’ Evaluations of ‘FRIENDS for Life’, an Indicated School-Based Prevention Program for Children with Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression. Behaviour Change, 32(4), 243-254.


My Journey Continues

“Opportunities to make change”

For the life of an educator, these words ring at the core of our being.  It is what makes us continue to promote new ideas, research and explore new possibilities.  When I started this journey three years ago, my mind was an open sponge.  Today I find that my sponge has enlarged abundantly.  The beauty of education is that as long as you have an open mind, you continue to learn, to process, adapt and make change.

The assignment that resonated the most with me this term was the discussion on attachment.  From birth, we learn.  Edelman (2016) commented in a recent child watch column how from the time we are born we are “wired” to interact with people.  Good, bad or indifferent it’s these attachments that we make that allows us to grow and adapt to each circumstance of our lives.  Experiences can make us resilient and strong, and others can leave us feeling insecure, unwanted and emotionally detached.  Repeated emotional trauma as studies report find “that children who combine a behaviorally inhibited temperament with an insecure attachment status display the highest levels of anxiety disorders symptoms”, (Muris et al., 2011, p 158).

How we respond as parents and educators can make a world of difference to a child who needs reassurance.  A colleague of mine, Kim Edwards brought up one of the most critical components that we can provide the children that we encounter; that is that the backdrop or story of a child is critical in how they learn.  As Edwards (2016) stated poignantly “When people hear a story that they can relate to they are more likely to empathize with the story and act upon it”.

Early childhood development lays the foundation or the blueprint of how children flourish mentally, physically and emotionally.  They absorb and learn so much before they begin the first grade.  The seeds we plant has to grow strong roots in order for them to navigate through life.  As I continue to pursue my studies in the field, I still feel strongly that working in the early childhood education field I can make a difference.  In my love for reading, I want to continue to challenge children to read and love the sound of their voice, on paper and out loud in their own words.  For children to communicate and be vocal early in life sets the stage for exploration and learning.

As educators we can help promote that opportunity by becoming their advocate.  We can help deter physical and emotional abuse if we allow ourselves to be open to listen and show we care.  We can show a child a world full of wonderment that they want to be excited about.  We have to take those opportunities to teach when and where we see them.  That’s my dream.  It has become my goal.

Last week when I was recording my advocacy piece on resilience, my husband listened quietly from the hall.  When I finished he told me that I had to find a way to use my voice on this journey towards my new career.  So, I hope you continue to follow my blog.  Starting next month, I’m committing to incorporating a podcast every month regarding a current issue in early childhood education on my page.  I look forward to any comments you all have to offer.



Edelman, M. W. (2016).  Mother’s Day Call to Action.  Retrieved from

Edwards, K. (2016).  Child Development and Learning: Attachment.  Retrieved from

Laureate Education (Producer). (2015m). Vision of the field of early childhood [Audio file]. Baltimore, MD: Author

Muris, P., Brakel, A., Arntz, A., & Schouten, E. (2011). Behavioral Inhibition as a Risk Factor for the Development of Childhood Anxiety Disorders: A Longitudinal Study. Journal Of Child & Family Studies, 20(2), 157-170.



The importance of positive attachment relationships in early childhood programs

Positive attachment experiences in the early years of childhood development are critical in the formation of socialization and relationships.  “One of the most important concepts related to attachment is attachment stability”, (Seven & Ogelman, 2012, p 767).  Within the first two years, consistency and reliability and experience lay a strong foundation of attachment between the child and the caregiver. Furthermore, “secure attachment relationship should be considered as the best single index of competence for infants and toddlers because security implies that the child is able to flexibly exercise behavior, affect, and cognition in the service of achieving developmentally salient goals”, (Verissimo, Santos, Fernandes & Vaughn, 2014, p 83).

Why should early childhood educators and administrators be concerned about attachment relationships between children, families and how it relates to our academic programs and society as a whole?  The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) stipulates that as early childcare providers and educators we that maintain positive relationships to instill a sense of self-worth and responsibility so that children in our charge can learn freely in a safe and secure environment on the roads to becoming responsible adults within our society.  How can we accomplish this task?

Branch and Brinson (2007) advice is that we must consider how attachment plays across every developmental domain that children experience.  From bedwetting or whining as a first grader or preschooler, to cognitive or behavioral developments and outbursts of second graders, attachment issues arise at different stages of a child’s life due to loss of income, divorce, addictions, mental illness or even abuse within their primary caregiver’s home.

First, through additional professional development on the understanding of attachment, we can properly prepare age-appropriate curriculums and development other tools and resources to ensure children are receiving the support and encouragement needed to fully develop.  “. In addition to the expected positive effect of responsive teacher practices on children’s social, emotional, and cognitive skills, we also expected that the increased responsivity would result in the children forming a closer relationship with their teacher and showing lower levels of behavioral and emotional problems (e.g., anxiety, aggression)”, (Landry et al., 2014, p 528).

Second, we must apply this understanding to our curriculums, interactions and conversations about the success of early childhood educational programs.  “Social justice principles of self-determination, empowerment, and transparency underlay the approach and strengths practitioners aim to facilitate change by “power with” stakeholders rather than “power over” them”, (Fenton & McFarland-Piazza, 2014, p 24).    What does strength approach entail?  According to Fenton & McFarland-Piazza (2014) there are five key elements:

  1. Listening to peoples’ stories
  2. Developing a picture of the future [visioning] and setting goals;
  3. Identifying and highlighting strengths and exceptions to problems;
  4. Identifying additional resources needed to move towards a picture of the future;
  5. Mobilizing strengths and resources through a plan of action;

Applying each of these principals to our conversations with families and children, we promote inclusion in working towards common goals, the academic and social success of children growing towards becoming responsible caring adults.


Branch, M. L., & Brinson, S. A. (2007).  Gone but not forgotten: Children’s experiences with attachment, separation and loss.  Reclaiming Children and Youth: The Journal of Strength-Based Interventions, 16(3), 41.45.

Fenton, A., & McFarland-Piazza, L. (2014). Supporting early childhood preservice teachers in their work with children and families with complex needs: A strengths approach.  Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 35(1), 22-38.

Landry, S. H., Zucker, T. A., Taylor, H. B., Swank, P. R., Williams, J. M., Assel, M., & …Klein, A. (2014). Enhancing early child care quality and learning for toddlers at risk: The responsive early childhood program.  Developmental Psychology, 50(2), 526-541.

National Association for the Education of Young Children (2016).  Position Statement.  Retrieved from

Seven, S., & Ogelman, H. G. (2012). Attachment stability in children aged 6 to 9 years in extended and nuclear families.  Early Education and Development 23(5), 766-780.

Verissimo, M., Santos, A. J., Fernandes, C., & Vaughn, B. E. (2014).  Associations between attachment security and social competence in preschool children.  Merrill-Palmer Quarterly: Journal of Developmental Psychology, 60(1), 80-99.

Brain Development and Early Childhood Education


As an advocate for early childhood education, the following would be disseminated as a brief to the Maryland State Assembly in support funding additional research in study brain development specifically as it relates to the development of young children.


“Early brain development is for the long-term” (Mustard & Rowcliffe, 2009, p 150)


From conception until the day we die, our brains process every thought and interaction we have. Recent brain and educational research (Begley, 1997; Families and Work Institute, 1996; Gonzalez-Mena & Eyer, 2007; Jensen, 2005; Shore, 2003; Wittmer & Petersen, 2006) clearly shows these neural pathways can be made richer and stronger through appropriate early care and challenging experiences that take place in carefully designed, nourishing environments.”, (Rike, Taylor & Moberly, 2008, p 23).  Wasserman (2007) states that “the 21st century has brought about many new technological advances that help to pinpoint specific areas of the brain that have difficulty and need to be improved to aid the education of the children within our classrooms”. (p 415).

For a child the human brain develops more than ninety percent (Rees, Booth & Jones, 2016) before their sixth birthday. According to Lebedeva (2015) the framework of the brain relies on four systems: regulation, sensory, executive and relevance.  Regulation controls our appetite, sleep, our stress levels and recovery system and without it we are unable to learn or process any information (Lebedeva, 2015).  Regulation is dominantly observed during the infant stage of early childhood.  “One dominant theory is the Mutual Regulation Model (Tronick & Beeghly, 2011), where it is the co-regulation of both the care provider and the infant (or child) that creates the brain patterns conducive to learning”, (Lebedeva, 2015, p 23).

During the first three years, particularly year three, relevance in brain development is where emotions, along with sensations begin to create memories and find intentions. Using the sensory system children begin to place senses in how they relate to relevance.  As early childcare educators, observations of this growth is evident as children experience new experiences.  Lastly, the executive system in brain development as Lebedeva (2015) reports is real time processing of intellect and emotions.  During preschool years children begin to correlate how emotions work with critical thinking and which are appropriate or inappropriate behavior.  Early childhood care providers can help children navigate through these feelings and place merit on their purpose.

“When providers are supported in seeing behaviors in the context of these systems, they are better able to understand that all behaviors have meaning, and are influenced by a child’s earliest relationships”, (Lebedeva, 2015, p 24).  “Universally-targeted educational programmes which encourage learning in a way that is supported by the available literature on brain development have the potential to be beneficial for children’s learning”, (Rees, Booth & Jones, 2016, p 13).  Early education programs can show and demonstrate “strong evidence of the flexibility of the children’s brains as they pursued never-ending possibilities for exploring and learning with the materials”, (Curtis, 2014, p 26).

In conclusion Rike, Taylor and Moberly (2015) state the job of early childhood educators the best and why knowledge of brain development is important to our field: “we build brains”.  Without research and study of brain development in young children, we cannot effectively utilize tools and resources they need to successfully grow.



Curtis, D. (2014). Seeing children find endless possibilities. Exchange (19460406), (215), 24-27.

Lebedeva, G. (2015). Building brains one relationship at a time. Exchange (19460406), (226), 21-25.

Mustard, J. F., & Rowcliffe, P. (2009). The long reach of early childhood. Our Schools / Our Selves, 18(3), 149-158.

Rees, P., Booth, R., & Jones, A. (2016). The emergence of neuroscientific evidence on brain plasticity: Implications for educational practice. Educational & Child Psychology, 33(1), 8-19.

Rike, C. J., Izumi-Taylor, S., & Moberly, D. (2008). We grow brains!  Exchange (19460406), (181), 22-26

Wasserman, L. (2007). The correlation between brain development, language acquisition, and cognition. Early Childhood Education Journal, 34(6), 415-418

What is an Early Childhood Education Professional? Are we just considered to be babysitters?

The field of early childhood education professionals is extremely robust, from educators, directors, advocates to researchers and policy makers.  Our job as a community of professionals is to ensure each child has access and availability to all tools required to develop their social, mental, physical and intellectual development; all essentials skills needed to become productive citizens.

According to Berger (2012), a leading expert in childhood and adolescent development, there are three stages of human development: physical development and growth, mental and emotional development.  Most individuals consider early childhood to encompass the years of birth to five, however, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) defines early childhood years from birth to age eight.   This very organization establishes ideologies, policies and standards based on evidence based research to ensure each child develops and learns based on age appropriate practices (NAEYC, 2016).  It is these years’ ages zero through eight, which children go through a rapid development of learning and using motor skills, communication, thought processing, and learning about themselves, their ethnic backgrounds and their communities.

Let’s look at one specific skill set, communication which requires reading, writing, non-verbal and verbal commands.   We all understand the importance of being able to read and write.  Did you know that more than one-third of our nation’s fourth graders cannot read at the basic level (National Institute for Literacy, 2008)?  With the assistance of researchers, parents and educators we can identify plausible causes for this defect and come up with viable solutions to erase literacy issues among our youth.  The better prepared they are for middle and high school, the better prepared we send them into the world for career or college opportunities.

So the answer to the question, are we babysitters, is that it is plausible we are two percent of the time.  The other ninety eight percent is tasked in ensuring our children have a safe, peaceful environment in which to learn, play and grow.



Berger, K.S. (2012). The developing person through childhood (6 Ed.). New York, NY: Worth Publishers.

National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC, 2016).  About NAEYC.  Retrieved from

National Institute for Literacy (2008).  Developing early literacy: Report of the National Early Literacy Panel. A scientific synthesis of early literacy development and implication for intervention.  Retrieved from