Dealing With An Anxious Toddler
As the saying goes, becoming a parent was nothing I expected it to be. In so many ways, it has exceeded my expectations. I am a better person because I have children. However, it has been infinitely harder in ways I didn’t expect. I could go on and on about this, but I wanted to reserve this space today to talk about dealing with my anxious toddler.
My little girl has all the signs; she is nervous and scared of just about anything, she’s painfully shy, and she doesn’t let me leave a room without her. She doesn’t sleep well, she doesn’t eat well, and she’s never been able to just ‘go with the flow’. A lot of these things can sound endearing, and to an extent they are, but for a parent who just wants to see their child thrive, it’s a lot to unpack.
I want her to make friends easily at the park. I want her to have a sense of independence. I want her to enjoy extracurricular activities. I want her to play, instead of worrying on the sidelines.
Fortunately for me, I guess, I know exactly where she picked up this anxiety. My husband teases me all the time that my toddler and I battle so often because we’re so similar. And we are. We are so similar, so I understand her anxiety well, but it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with. I have found some ways to help her, as well as myself, to make these anxious moments feel less burdensome. Here are the top 4 things that have helped me and my anxious toddler.
Talking It Out and Allowing Expression
Every kid that struggles with anxiety has a telltale sign. Whether it’s being shy, whining, crying, shutting down, or any combination, it’s one of the first things that signal anxiety. For my little girl, it’s whining.
Once noticing the trigger, the very first thing I do is start talking through the situation. I don't try and change her mind, I don't try and stop her whining, but I do try to understand what is stressing her out. Without acknowledging her behavior, I allow her to stay upset, to cry, to whine, to shy away, or whatever she needs to do to express the emotions she’s feeling. My only purpose in talking it out is to better understand her for my knowledge and to let her know she always has a safe place to come to when she feels these triggers. Usually, by talking it out, the behavior associated with whatever is stressing her out stops.
This one can feel like a challenge with an overly sensitive and shy little person. Sometimes I feel like I have to force her to go to the playground, or to play with others, but there is something about moving your body that is so releasing. The feeling even resonates with kids. We try to make it to the park, go on a walk, or play outside every day. This drastically helps her stress and anxiety, and I can also see the effects over time. We don’t avoid activities and we always try to keep an attitude of trying our best. I’ve found with this attitude, she is beginning to find comfort in places she didn’t before, and is beginning to trust moving out of her comfort zone little bits at a time.
Leading By Example
While I’m always willing to help her with any obstacle she is struggling with, like most parents are, sometimes that’s not the type of encouragement she needs. As aforementioned above, I too struggle with anxiety often. I try really hard to not shy away from this fact with my daughter by letting her know when I’m feeling nervous, and when I don’t feel comfortable doing something. I try to show her that I can be brave too, and when I can work through these obstacles that feel uncomfortable to me. We have championed each other through many hard things, and it has shown her that even her mom doesn’t always feel brave.
Let Them Make the Moves
It’s a delicate balance encouraging them, without overly reassuring them. Helping them, without pushing them. Being an example without them relying on you. Not knowing how to help your toddler can be so frustrating, especially while trying not to let your emotions show. With that being said, it is so important to let them decide when they are ready to accomplish something that they are nervous about. Empowering them to make decisions, and to be brave on their own terms can give them the best type of inner push they need.
Even small improvements deserve praise. Sometimes the first step is the hardest, and deserves the most acknowledgment, though it is often overlooked. Being brave, even in small doses, is always worthy of celebration!
These few tips have worked wonders in my life, but if you feel that your child has a bigger problem, I would encourage you to seek advice from a medical professional. There are many ways to encourage our children, many gurus and advice-givers, but as parents, we have the best insight into our own children. Take advice with a grain of salt, and adapt to your child in a way that makes the best sense for you.