We often tend to think about anxiety as something adolescents and adults experience. After all, young children don’t have responsibilities or anything that could seem to be a legitimate source of stress, right? Wrong! Anxiety can start very early in children. Separation anxiety is something we expect in children, but there are other kinds as well. Here are some common signs of anxiety in toddlers and preschoolers:
- Rigidity Anxious toddlers are often insistent that things are done in a certain way. They have to be tucked in just right, their food has to be perfect on their plate, they only use a specific sippy cup, etc. While young children love routine and predictability, anxious toddlers can have a meltdown if things are done in a very specific way.
- Unreasonable Fears It’s normal for children to have fears about new or scary situations, but toddlers who experience anxiety may be terrified of things like tap water, being flushed down the toilet, or other irrational situations.
- Trouble Sleeping Toddlers may have trouble falling or staying asleep and may experience bad dreams.
- Sound Sensitivity Anxious toddlers may often cover their ears or become extremely agitated at loud noises (like vacuum cleaners, sirens, music, etc.)
Ways to Help
Thankfully, toddlers showing symptoms of anxiety don’t have to suffer needlessly, as there are effective ways to help them manage and reduce these intense feelings.
Talk To A Pediatrician
It’s possible that there’s an underlying medical problem that is causing your child to be agitated. A pediatrician can provide a thorough exam to check for these things.
Name It To Tame It
Children need an age-appropriate vocabulary to talk about their emotions. Asking them (in simple terms) what they are experiencing can help. Say something like, “worry can feel like a big knot in your tummy. Do you feel worry?”
Read Books Together
There have been some wonderful children’s books written where characters experience anxiety and then learn to manage it. These can help your little one understand more about his/her own anxiety and how to keep it under control. Some examples are “Don’t Feed the Worry Bug” by Andi Green, “Hey Warrior” by Karen Young, and “What To Do When You Worry Too Much” by Dawn Huebner.
Seek Professional Counseling
Sometimes even after all these strategies are tried, the child continues to struggle. In these cases, I encourage you to look into play therapy in which a certified child therapist helps children use toys, art, and other means to explore their world, make sense of the anxiety, help with effective parenting strategies, and teach the young child healthy, age appropriate coping skills.