Anxiety in 3 Year Old, Symptoms and Their Solutions – A To Z You Should Know!
All human beings are born with a flight or fight natural response to our environment. When someone is afraid or stressed, the part of the brain that is responsible for flight or fight response will cause the fearful or nervous feeling that is usually referred to as anxiety. It is natural for everyone to feel anxious sometimes, but for small children, it can be hard for them to control themselves, and sometimes it will even affect their functionality.
However, it can be difficult to detect when a child is anxious more especially the toddlers, until they get to the preschool age. This is because, as a toddler, there are a lot of emotional, physical, and cognitive developments going on. With all the changes that a child is going through, it can be easy for a child to become anxious.
The symptoms of anxiety in toddlers differ from one kid to another. This is because every child is unique and will have a different way of dealing with what is stressing him. Therefore, as a parent, you need to look for unusual actions or behavior in your child — the most significant indicator of anxiety in children in the sudden change from normal behavior.
The following reasons mostly cause anxiety in toddlers:
- Separation – for the toddler, the primary caregiver is the main source of protection for the child. When the toddler is separated from the care given either for schooling reasons or any other reason, they become anxious.
- Changes in the family – when a major change occurs in the family such as death, loss of job, or divorce, it can cause a toddler to be anxious. The changes from the norm in the family circle is likely to make a toddler feel uncomfortable.
- Potty training – when a toddler learns how to use a potty without much trouble, then the transition is smooth. However, if, as a parent, you try to force your kid to use the potty, if it feels like using a potty is a discipline issue, then it is likely to make the toddler anxious. The longer it takes the child to learn how to use a potty, it becomes a stressar.
- Busy schedule – toddlers like enjoying the present and the things around them. However, if they are being rushed from one activity to another, then they quickly become anxious.
- Significant world events – when there are either natural or man-made scary events that occur around the world such as tsunami, terrorist attack, among others, it can make the child anxious. It is very easy for a child to know when a bad thing happens around them. This will make them afraid since they do not know what will happen next.
Symptoms of anxiety in toddlers
The very first sign that a toddler is anxious is when he is afraid. An anxious child will be afraid than it is necessary for a child to be scared. It is usual for a toddler to have some fears about certain things. However, the level of fearfulness differentiates a kid who is anxious from the one who is not.
A toddler will develop a phobia for some of the following things:
- Bathtub fear
- Darkness and shadows
- Bathroom fear
- Monsters among others
If you note that your child is afraid of specific things, either natural or imaginary, then know that your child is anxious.
2. Sensitive to certain sounds
An anxious toddler will be over sensitive. He will be startled by specific noises around him. You might notice that your son is afraid of the sound of the vacuum cleaner, loud music, automatic toilet flusher, garbage truck, among others.
3. Eats specific foods
It is common for a kid to choose the kinds of foods he eats. However, when he takes the pickiness to another level, then that is a sign that he is afraid of something.
A child who is anxious will not be willing to try new food. He may want his food served on a specific plate. Also, he might detest any food that has a specific texture. An anxious child will want to eat only specific food types.
An anxious toddler will have a problem sleeping. He might not be able to sleep on his own and would want to lie down with you or sleep in your room. Besides that, you might notice your child waking up several times during the night because he is afraid of something terrible that will happen.
An anxious toddler will insist that you do some things in a specific order. For instance, if he can only drink from a specific cup when you take him to bed, he asks you to tuck him in a specific manner, or when you are holding him, he wants to be held in a certain way.
Most children want things done in a particular manner, but when a toddler becomes uncomfortable if the thing is not done in a specific order, then that is a sign of anxiety.
6. Becomes your shadow
An anxious toddler will become a shadow of the parent. He will follow you wherever you go, and if he is a lace that he cannot see you, he breaks down. He will follow you from one room to another, and when you enter the bathroom, he will stand at the door, calling after you. When you separate from him even for a moment is a major cause of panic. If your kid becomes your shadow and is afraid of being alone, then he is anxious.
7. Scared of strangers
An anxious toddler will not befriend strangers. Instead, he will cling to your leg, and it may take a long time before he can warm up to a stranger. Besides that, if you go with him to a crowded place, he becomes overwhelmed with strangers even with other children. Also, when he does not freely mingle with other children, even in party events such as birthday parties.
8. Does not want to get dirty
Anxious toddlers do not like getting dirty more especially the hands. He will not play a game that will make him unclean, and if he accidentally gets dirty, he breaks down. He will ask to wash his hands as soon as he touches anything that he thinks will make him sick.
9. Avoids certain clothes
Besides being picky about the foods he eats, an anxious toddler will hate even some of his own clothes. Most of the toddlers will be afraid of cloth tags or the seam of the socks. He will prefer to wear flip flops over other clothes. Apart from that, he might refuse to wear tight-fitting clothes such as jeans or any clothing that somehow restricts his body.
10. Repetitive behavior
An anxious child will develop some ritual behaviors that will help him calm down his anxiety. He might start twirling his hair or bite his nails so as to calm down. Besides that, he might prefer to use a specific dish to eat or ask you to cut his food in particular shapes. If you notice your kid developing specific routine behaviors, then know that he is anxious about something.
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Solutions to Toddler Anxiety
1. Don’t avoid the things that make your child anxious
Most parents like telling their children not to worry about some things. But in most cases, this does not take away the worry. In the same way, do not avoid those things that make your kid anxious. For instance, if your child is afraid of a dog, shielding your child from coming into contact with dogs will not help him. This will only validate his fears, and he will think that all dogs are dangerous.
Instead, you should help your child to deal with his fears slowly. For instance, with the help of a dog therapist, let your child come close to a dog. At first, let him watch puppies playing together and then let him come close to a friendly dog. By walking with him with those things that he is afraid of, he will learn to deal with his fears.
2. Build a coping kit for him
The best way to help your child to overcome his fears is to teach him how to cope with his fears. One of the best ways to help your toddler is to teach him coping skills. Different coping skills can help a child to overcome his fears.
Your child can either memorize these skills, or he can write them down so that he can refer to them from time to time.
Some of the coping skills include:
- Taking deep breaths
- Getting help from an adult
- Using a stress ball
- Re-framing thoughts and talking back to the worrying thing
- Progressive muscle relaxation
3. Set Clear Expectation
If you have more than one child and one is anxious, and the rest are not, you should set similar expectations for both children. However, be accommodating for the anxious kid. For instance, if your anxious child is afraid of strangers, and there is a party to attend, it is better to accompany your child.
When you have similar expectations for all children, it will help your child to start building his confidence. Also, as you walk with him through his fears, he will learn to be comfortable around those things that make him anxious.
Anxiety can paralyze your child. A troubled child finds it difficult to do some of the basic things in his life, like playing with other kids or even going to school. Besides that, your anxious child can avoid those things that he likes, such as movies or games with other kids because there will be many people, for instance.
For this reason, it is critical to empathize with your kid. When you empathize with your child, it helps him to start seeing those things that make him afraid as a regular occurrence, and he will know that he is not alone. When he knows that you have his back, it will be easy for him to cope with the situation.
5. Focus on other things
Do not force your child to do those things that make him anxious. Instead, you should let him focus on other things that are equally helpful. For instance, playing is critical to your child’s health, but there are different ways that your child can improve his health.
Some of the things that you can help your child do include:
- Drink enough water
- Get enough sleep
- Play outdoors
- Eat healthy meals
- Take other fun activities such as riding a bicycle, among others.
6. Teach reframing of thoughts
Anxious children more often find themselves feeling helpless. They are usually caught in negative thoughts about those things that they are afraid of. It is, therefore, crucial to set time apart with your child, where you can practice engaging in positive thoughts.
You can walk with your child towards having positive thoughts by using the following template:
- What are you worried about currently?
- What is the worry telling you?
- Then help your child break down the worry to see if it is true or not
- Look for a way that you can take that worry and turn it into a positive thought
For instance, if your child says he is worried about other kids in class who do not like him. This might be because he did not get the right answer in a math test, and someone laughed at him. You can help him to break down the situation and look at it differently. Like does he answer other questions during class time, does he have someone who he talks within the class. You can re-frame the situation by telling him he is hurt because his classmates laughed at him, but he has other strengths as well.
Symptoms of Anxiety in Pre-school Children
Anxiety in preschool children can be broken down into two – emotional and physical symptoms.
Physical symptoms of anxiety include:
- Shaking, trembling, tingling
- Increased heartbeat
- Difficulty catching his breath
- Tensed muscles or aches
- Will not use a bathroom elsewhere except at home
- Complains of stomachache or headache even when he does not have medical problems
Emotional symptoms of anxiety include:
- Perfection in everything
- Unable to relax
- Ongoing worry about some activities, school or things
- Refusal to go to school
- Constant fears about his safety or the safety of others including parents or siblings
- Inability to concentrate
- Having bad dreams
- Waking up at night
- Failure to solve simple daily challenges
- Anger outbursts
- Constantly thinking about bad things
- Starts wetting the bed
- Cries a lot
- Gets frequent panic attacks
- Afraid of making mistakes even slight ones
- Avoiding some friends or activities
- Becomes clingy
- Afraid of darkness
For you to know what is causing your child to be anxious, ensure that you observe him carefully and take note of the things that you see. There are some anxiety log sheets online that you can download to help you note your child’s behavioral patterns. When you have identified the things that make your child anxious, then you can seek help for him.
However, you need to remember that anxiety is a common thing in preschool kids. Most importantly, talk to your child’s doctor and know whether his fear is something that should be looked into professionally.
According to medical doctors, anxiety in children can turn out to be a good thing for your child. Most of the kids who experience stress turns out to be the most intelligent, kind, empathetic grownups. They become the most amazing adults. You only need to walk with your child during this period, and he will turn out to be a real gem in the future.
Most importantly, as a parent, ensure that you take very good care of yourself. Because taking care of an anxious toddler can be taxing as well. You have to wake up when your child wakes up at night, and you will be constantly worried about the wellbeing of your child and so much more. Ensure that you prioritize your wellbeing so as you can be able to care for your kid.