Everyone feels anxious from time to time. As adults, we’ve learned coping mechanisms that help us deal with our the feelings of unease that can accompany the unknown. Feeling anxious is not just something adults do. In fact, anxiety in toddlers and preschoolers is pretty common. The biggest difference is that they haven’t yet learned how to communicate what they are feeling, or how to manage feeling anxious.
Anxiety in Toddlers and Preschoolers
Learning to recognize when our little one’s are feeling anxious can go a long way toward helping them, and us, learn to navigate their feelings. It is normal for children to feel nervous or apprehensive in new situations or in the face of the unknown. The presence of anxious feelings doesn’t necessarily mean that your child has an anxiety disorder. It is important to help young children express their emotions.
Is it Typical or Atypical
The difference between occasionally feeling anxious and having an anxiety disorder is that anxiety disorders interfere with daily activities or life in general. If you’re concerned that your child’s anxiety is more than the typical anxiousness that goes along with childhood, you should talk with their pediatrician.
For children, signs that they are experiencing anxiety can include:
- Difficulty Concentrating
- Sleep Disturbance
- Muscle Tension
- Self soothing behaviors, like rocking or thumb sucking.
Don’t stress over age appropriate self soothing behavior. For example, thumb-sucking is an age appropriate behavior for very young children. But if your kiddo is older and still sucking their thumb in stressful situations, and you’ve used the easy ways to stop thumb sucking, then you probably want to talk with the doctor. If their anxiety, or their response to it, is interfering with normal activities, seek help.
In the meantime, just because you see a few of these signs, doesn’t necessarily mean your child has an anxiety disorder. You can help them learn how to express their feelings. There are a few simple things you can do to help your child and ease their anxiety.
Talk About Expectations
Be sure to talk to your children about what to expect in any given situation. Knowing what to expect can go a long way toward lessening the fear and anxiety.
If your child appears to be anxious, ask open ended questions to get them to talk about it. While their fear may seem silly to you, it’s really not helpful to dismiss their fears. All that does is cause them to shut down. Be sure to acknowledge the fears. Encourage their attempts to share, and reassure them that talking about what they fear will better enable them to handle or face them.
I’ve taught my children Philippians 4:6-7 from an early age, which says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Avoidance Isn’t the Answer
Your goal shouldn’t be to rid your children of anxiety but to help them learn to function despite the anxiety. If you simply remove triggers, you will only teach them to avoid things that are hard. Rather, talk (and walk) them through things that they want to avoid so that over time, their anxiety may abate rather than increase.
Talk Talk Talk
While it helps to talk your kids through anxiety-inducing situations, remember, the more time they have to stew over something, the more anxiety it will cause. So don’t tell your kids that they have to go to the doctor a day before; limit that worry time to 30-60 minutes before the appointment and talk them through everything that will happen. Even addressing what your children will do if the thing they fear the most actually happens can be amazingly helpful for reducing anxiety.
However, you decide to help your children with their worries and fears, remember that modeling healthy forms of coping with anxiety is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your kids. Talk to them about what you do when you’re afraid and help normalize and neutralize the fear. Knowing that they are not alone in their feelings can go a long way toward overcoming them.
If you have concerns about your children’s potential anxiety issues, please do not hesitate to contact their physician and get a medical opinion before searching out mental health services (your physician can help with that, too).