Parenting a young child who is experiencing anxiety can be incredibly difficult and frustrating, no matter how much overwhelming love you have for him or her. A certain level of anxiety in a young child is completely normal, and all young children experience anxiety at some point. Fortunately, there are various approaches that may help you and your child feel positive and get through the day smoothly:
Give Plenty of Notice – Anyone who lives with anxiety does better when they have a little control over their day and the sequence of events. Talk to your child about the upcoming routine and give choices when transitions are approaching (for example, “Would you like to leave now or in 5 minutes?”). Advanced notice gives a child time to finish what he or she is doing and mentally prepare for a change in activity.
Help Identify Feelings – Even as an adult, it can be difficult to identify the feelings that drive certain actions. Helping a child put a name to the sensations he or she is feeling can provide comfort and understanding (for example, “You’re really sad that we have to leave”, “It is so frustrating to not be able to do it yourself”…).
Read, Read, Read – If a child expresses anxiety over something specific, one of the easiest things to do is head to your local library. Do dogs suddenly make your child anxious? Bring home a pile of positive books about dogs!
Limit Screen time – More than 2 hours a day of screen time (television, video games, computers, etc…) has been linked to psychological difficulties. Did you know that in the United States, preschool children spend an average of 32 hours a week in front of some type of screen? This is time that could be spent playing, problem-solving, exercising, imagining, relaxing or talking about what is bothering them.
Spend Time Outdoors and in Natural Spaces – Children spend approximately 50% less time outdoors than they did 20 years ago. That is a huge difference. Time outside, for a young child, typically translates to imaginative play and exercise. A connection and relationship with nature provides tremendous mental health benefits, including a reduction in stress and anxiety.
Avoid Over-Scheduling – Children, especially anxious children, need free time. With school, play-dates, parental obligations, and other pre-planned activities, children often have virtually no unscheduled time to themselves. Play and exploration are essential for young children. It is through play that children sort out their feelings and act out their fears.