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How To Help A Toddler With Anxiety

The Goal Isnt To Eliminate Anxiety But To Help A Child Manage It

Toddlers and Separation Anxiety- tips and hints to help.

None of us wants to see a child unhappy, but the best way to help kids overcome anxiety isnt to try to remove stressors that trigger it. Its to help them learn to tolerate their anxiety and function as well as they can, even when theyre anxious. And as a byproduct of that, the anxiety will decrease over time.

Other Ways To Ease Anxiety In Children

  • teach your child to recognise signs of anxiety in themselves
  • encourage your child to manage their anxiety and ask for help when they need it
  • children of all ages find routines reassuring, so try to stick to regular daily routines where possible
  • if your child is anxious because of distressing events, such as a bereavement or separation, look for books or films that will help them to understand their feelings
  • if you know a change, such as a house move, is coming up, prepare your child by talking to them about what is going to happen and why
  • try not to become overprotective or anxious yourself
  • practice simple relaxation techniques with your child, such as taking 3 deep, slow breaths, breathing in for a count of 3 and out for 3. You’ll find more guidance for helping children with anxiety on the Young Minds website
  • distraction can be helpful for young children. For example, if they are anxious about going to nursery, play games on the way there, such as seeing who can spot the most red cars
  • turn an empty tissue box into a “worry” box. Get your child to write about or draw their worries and “post” them into the box. Then you can sort through the box together at the end of the day or week

Childhood Anxiety Can Worsen As Children Grow Left Untreated Anxiety Can Impact Both Physical And Emotional Health Here’s How To Help Your Child Manage Anxiety On Their Own

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Fathers bravely patrolling the perimeter of bedrooms to show a frightened child there arent any multi-legged, hairy creatures hiding under their bed is a nighttime ritual regularly performed in homes around the world. But when spider anxiety prevents you from sleeping away from home or traveling, thats a problem. Its not the spider that stops you from doing adventurous things its youand your anxietythat stops you.

Its important to know the difference between normal anxiety and an anxiety disorder though. Fear of spiders, bugs, birds, monsters, or strangers are considered common childhood fears that may cause temporary anxiety in a child. Thats a normal response. But, regardless of the trigger , normal anxiety turns toxic when it begins to occupy the childs thoughts in an all-consuming way and negatively affects the childs ability to engage in normal activities and behaviors.

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What If Your Anxious Children Just Cant Relax

Kids prone to unhealthy anxiety have unrealistic fears. Theymay move from one area of worry to another as they get older, Dr. Lee says.

For example:

  • Toddlers may move from intense separationanxiety to anxiety over going to elementary school and meeting new children.Then, when the child reaches the teen years, the worry will focus on stillanother area of life.
  • A young child who has a fear that something badmight happen to her parent may have trouble with falling asleep or separating evenpast the toddler years.
  • If your child has unrealistic worries aboutbecoming ill or about germs, he may wash his hands excessively or constantlyask you for reassurance that he wont get sick.

These fears are often crippling. They sometimes include extremefear of insects, water, darkness, clowns, or just about anything else, Dr. Leesays.

Some children suffer from generalized anxiety disorder . Teens with GAD may focus their anxiety on performance-related fears that cannot be quelled by a parents reassurance and rational discussion. These worries can drive them to extreme study or practice habits or heroic attempts to avoid social situations.

How Does Exposure Therapy Work

Effective Techniques to Help Your Child

The first step is identifying triggers. We design a hierarchy of fears a series of incremental challenges, each of which is tolerable, and which together build to significant progress. Instead of thinking in black and white terms I cant touch a dog or I cant cross a bridge kids are asked to consider degrees of difficulty. We might ask a child with contamination fears, for example, On a scale of 1 to 10, how difficult would it be to touch the door handle with one finger? To touch and open the door?

For a child with a fear of vomiting, we might ask: How difficult would it be to write the word vomit? If that is a 3, saying I will vomit today might be a 5. To see a cartoon of someone vomiting might rate a 7. To watch a real video of someone vomiting might be a 9. At the top of the hierarchy would likely be eating something the child thinks will make them vomit. By rating these different fears, kids come to see that some are less extreme, and more manageable, than they had thought.

Next, we expose the child to the trigger in its mildest possible form, and support them until the anxiety subsides. Fear, like any sensation, diminishes over time, and children gain a sense of mastery as they feel the anxiety wane.

Also Check: How To Treat Sleep Anxiety Disorder

Where Does Your Childs Anxiety Come From

Anxiety is a normal and rather common emotion in children. It may be caused by family events such as frequent home or school changes, an unstable family environment, death or illness in the family, a stressful school environment, and so on.

Science says that anxious parents are more likely to pass on their anxiety to their kids. That said, some children are born worriers, meaning that they are more prone to worry than others.

Stress and anxiety are touching more children today than ever before. According to the available research, anxiety affects almost one in eight children.

While some amount of anxiety is normal, this emotion can affect how your child learns and how they interact with the world around them. Some studies suggest that anxiety leads to poorer memory and to poorer performance.

While it is easy to recognize some signs of anxiety such as separation anxiety or teary and clingy behavior, other symptoms of anxiety are more difficult to identify.

Anxiety in children is not always easy to detect because it is an emotion that has perfected the art of concealing itself.

This means that an anxious child may display behavior that is easily mistaken for something else: misbehavior, aggressivity, anger, and so. Also, young children rarely have the words to describe their anxiety, meaning that it may be easily overlooked.

That said, there are several common signs of anxiety. Here are 20 signs and symptoms of often found in anxious kids.

How To Help Your Child

Its important to acknowledge your childs worries and not to force them into situations that make them scared. Gently encourage them to be brave and try something new.

When in a new situation, give your child time to adjust and to get used to it. Stay with them for a while and gently encourage them to explore and play with the other children. After a while, you can move away for a short time. But make sure your child knows you are there and come back before they get upset.

Try not to comfort your child too much because this will teach them that it’s a scary situation and will reward their shyness. Instead, reward brave behaviour and tell them what they did well .

If your child gets very anxious, show them how to calm themselves down by breathing slowly breathe in for 3 seconds, hold for 3 seconds and breathe out for 3 seconds.

If the situation is too much for them, you can break it into manageable chunks. For example, if they are very scared of going swimming, suggest sitting and watching others swim for a while. When they are comfortable, try dangling their legs in the water. Praise their achievements and remind them its good just to make an effort.

Its also important to show your child how to behave. Make sure you appear confident and outgoing yourself so your child can see how its done.

Also Check: What Can Help My Anxiety

Anxiety Is A Fear Of The Future And All Its Unpredictability

“The main thing to know about anxiety is that it involves some level of perception about danger,” says Pine, and it thrives on unpredictability. The mind of an anxious child is often on the lookout for some future threat, locked in a state of exhausting vigilance.

We all have some of this hard-wired worry, because we need it. Pine says it’s one of the reasons we humans have managed to survive as long as we have. “Young children are naturally afraid of strangers. That’s an adaptive thing. They’re afraid of separation.”

Full-blown anxiety happens when these common fears get amplified as if someone turned up the volume and they last longer than they’re supposed to. Pine says separation anxiety is quite common at age 3, 4 or 5, but it can be a sign of anxiety if it strikes at age 8 or 9. According to research, 11 is the median age for the onset of all anxiety disorders.

A bundle of factors contributes to a child’s likelihood of developing anxiety. Roughly a third to half of the risk is genetic. But environmental factors also play a big part. Exposure to stress, including discord at home, poverty and neighborhood violence, can all lead to anxiety. Research has shown that women are much more likely than men to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder over their lifetime and that anxiety, as common as it is, appears to be vastly underdiagnosed and undertreated.

Express Positive And Realistic Expectations

Children’s Anxiety: 3 Ways to Help Your Anxious Child

The way you can help your child is by being confident in what they are capable of doing. You dont need to promise that their fears wont be an issue, but its important for a parent or teacher alike -to have realistic expectations with kids so those anxieties arent too overwhelming when faced head-on. By letting them know that as time goes on the anxiety levels might feel less intense and things get easier- this gives children confidence.

Also Check: How To Stop Separation Anxiety In A Puppy

Tips And Resources For Parents

Parents can take steps to help reduce their childrens anxiety. In addition, reading the latest research can offer valuable information about new treatment options.

Tips for Parents with Children Suffering from Anxiety

Parents should encourage children to face their fears. They should also assure children that they dont have to be perfect and emphasize positivity instead of criticism. Additionally, they should schedule calming activities for their kids. Parents can also demonstrate positive ways to respond to anxiety-provoking situations. Rewarding brave behavior is also important for parents to help children cope with anxiety, as is maintaining a bedtime routine. Parents should also encourage expression of anxiety as opposed to suppression and denial. Additionally, parents can help children learn how to solve problems. Finally, parents can practice relaxation exercises with children.

Useful Resources

Dont Avoid Things Just Because They Make A Child Anxious

Helping children avoid the things they are afraid of will make them feel better in the short term, but it reinforces the anxiety over the long run. Lets say a child in an uncomfortable situation gets upset and starts to cry not to be manipulative, but just because thats how they feel. If their parents whisk them out of there, or remove the thing theyre afraid of, the child has learned that coping mechanism. And that cycle has the potential to repeat itself.

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What Not To Do When A Child Is Anxious

At one time or another, every parent has made a well-meaning mistake that made things worse. For instance, you may be quick to dismiss a youngster’s emotions or label them wrong,” Gilboa says. “We’re so used to guiding our kids’ behavior that we try to guide their feelings as well,” she says. “It never works.”

Pressuring a child to feel a certain way may cause him to hide his or her real emotions. That can make it more difficult to recognize the seriousness of the problem. “If our kids can’t express their feelings to us and know that they’ll be heard, we will never know if they’re experiencing true anxiety that needs attention,” she says.

Other parents may be too ready to accommodate their children by simply avoiding situations that trigger anxiety. That can backfire, too. When children stop going to the pool with friends because they fear water or avoid sleepovers because theyre uncomfortable in the dark, those limitations may add to their anxiety. “It’s really stressful not being able to do the things that other people do,” Chansky says.

If left undiagnosed and untreated, a child with an anxiety disorder is at increased risk of engaging in dangerous behaviors, such as self-harm, substance abuse and bullying. “They develop negative coping strategies,” Gilboa says.

Signs Of Anxiety In Toddlers

Stress And Anxiety In Children

Anxiety is a natural emotion, and you may spot it easily when the toddler is presented with triggers. Some of the common triggers are fear of the dark, separation from parents, loud noises, fear of insects, and stranger anxiety.

Below are some of the signs and symptoms of anxiety in toddlers .

  • Phobias: Have you observed your child is fearful of the unknown or gets scared easily? These are the few initial signs that your toddler may be developing anxiety. Toddlers with anxiety disorders display exaggerated fears that become phobias.
  • Intense separation anxiety: Most children worry and cry if they cant find their parents for a long time. However, anxious toddlers follow their parents like a shadow and can have a severe meltdown when they cannot find their parents. Toddlers with an anxiety disorder could display intense .
  • Severe tantrums: Tantrums and kids go hand-in-hand, and toddlers are known to throw most tantrums. However, if your toddlers tantrums last long, often more than an hour, and occur too frequently, it may indicate anxiety issues.
  • Regression: Anxious toddlers tend to display regressive behavior. An example of regressive behavior can be a toilet-trained toddler who wets his/her bed in the night.
  • Repetitive behaviors: Toddlers who develop anxiety display repetitive behaviors, such as biting their teeth, flicking their hair, or moving their feet. It may be more frequent in toddlers with anxiety disorders.
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