1. Know the Signs of Anxiety in young children:
Rigidity in routines
Slow to warm to new people or activities
Fears and Phobias
*Sensitivity to noise, clothing, textures, etc.
Learn to recognize possible signs of anxiety in your toddler. When dealing with young children, it might be a new idea that they could be stressed or anxious. “What in the world do they have to worry about,” some might think; butc hildren can suffer from anxiety just like anyone. This may be a result of the child’s special needs or just something your child is prone to with his personality/temperament. If you think your child might be anxious, talk with them about how they might feel – label the feelings so that they are easier for your child to talk about.
*Some of the signs listed above are also symptoms of sensory processing disorder. Please be sure to talk to your child’s pediatrician if you are concerned about SPD. Your EI or your child’s OT can also help with this.
2. Show empathy:
Anxious feelings are no fun, and being told to “just hurry up, there’s nothing wrong” rarely makes us feel better.
Acknowledge your child’s feelings, label the feelings, and talk about ways to help your child feel better. You may need to model deep breathing, watch a short video about the new activity you are about to try, or simply wait a moment or two before making the transition to the next activity. Reassure your child that you know what it feels like to be anxious, but that you are there for them and you can do the next activity together. If you can, give your child a choice about how he does the next activity. Sometimes allowing the child some control can alleviate anxious feelings – and increase cooperation!
3. Maintain Predictability:
I use a calendar and schedule every day. If I lose my calendar, I will not know where I am supposed to be, and likely might not get there! As you can imagine, this situation would make me feel very anxious! Our children are the same way sometimes. There are children who are just happy to go along, but there are many who need to know what is coming
next! Having a predictable routine and talking about what is coming up next can be a big help. For some children, using a visual schedule can be an even bigger help. Very young children are not reading yet, and even school age children may have a difficult time reading if they become upset. To make a visual schedule, search for and print pictures to represent the major portions of a typical day. You may post these to the refrigerator, so that you can move them around if needed. Put this at your child’s level, so she can refer to it easily. Point to the pictures when you are preparing to transition to the next activity. Your child will feel more secure if he can see what is happening next. Your EI will be happy to help you make a visual schedule and show you how to use it, if you think this would help your child.