Anxiety in Young Children - What It Looks Like
I recently attended a very interesting and eye opening training and thought it would be helpful to share some of the information. The training was on Crisis Prevention (http://www.crisisprevention.com) in the classroom (I work in preschool with special education children). The majority of the emphasis, however, was on how to identify anxiety in order to prevent a potential 'crisis' in the classroom. The information I am sharing here is relevant for both parents and teachers of young children.
Anxiety is a normal part of development and tends to follow a developmental sequence. Infants may show anxiety (fearfulness) when a loud noise occurs or a sudden loss of physical support occurs. Young children between the ages of 9 months and 2 years often exhibit separation anxiety which is an indication of the development of a healthy attachment to caregivers.
This type of anxiety is worse for young children who have had either too few or too frequent separations from caregivers. Young children who experience this anxiety will be clingy and usually cry at the time of separation - and some may even become more tearful and upset when their parent comes back to pick them up even if they have had a good day in the meantime. Separation anxiety usually decreases between the ages of 2 and 3 years.
5 factors that may contribute to increased separation anxiety:
- change in child's routine
- change in family (new baby, divorce, etc.)
- child being sick
- change in caregiver or daycare or preschool
- child being tired
7 ways to support your child and possibly reduce separation anxiety:
- acknowledge how your child is feeling (i.e., "I get sad too when…")
- by saying "it'll be okay - I'll be back soon" - you are not validating your child's feelings
- try to be cheerful when you leave
- don't prolong your departure
- never sneak out - always say goodbye
- focus on the positive things that will happen when you are gone
- plan something special (even a yummy treat) for when you pick him up
Another anxiety seen in children is school anxiety. This is seen from young preschoolers on up. Many young children have a fear of school and will resist going to school especially in the beginning of the year. For many this goes away as the fear of the unknown dissipates, but for some this fear persists and even gets worse. What confounds the problem is that young children are unable to put these fears into words and so they will often "act out" instead.
At home, this can look many different ways. Your child may not sleep well or be slow and apprehensive about getting dressed in the morning. He may be extra clingy and complain of stomachaches or headaches. His behavior may seem oppositional, but in actuality he is really fearful and anxious about going to school.
As parents, it's so easy and natural to want to take away the problem and the fear by saying something like "don't worry, you'll have fun today." How comforting is that to hear? Not very. This of a situation that you encountered that made you somewhat or very anxious. Does hearing "don't worry" help or is it more comforting to hear empathetic and understanding words? Of course the latter.
At school & daycare, it's important for teachers and caregivers to also know what anxiety in children looks like. If not identified and addressed, this behavior can escalate and turn disruptive and undesirable in the classroom. On the other hand, a child's anxieties about school can cause uncomfortable shyness and this needs to be correctly identified as well.
8 behaviors to look for that may indicate anxiety in a child:
- fidgeting excessively
- excessive silliness
- fast rate of speech
- avoidance and escape behaviors
- looking away
- excessive crying / yelling / screaming
Empathetic Listening is the active process of accepting and confirming your child's/student's fears and it involves the following:
- give undivided attention
- always acknowledge the problem
- be non-judgmental & sensitive
- listen for feelings behind the behavior
- allow silence for reflection
- restate to help clarify their message (this helps them to communicate their feelings)
- an empathetic statement like "I get that funny feeling in my tummy too sometimes" can go a long way
For more reading on anxiety in young children, please refer to these two articles:
Filed under Other by Tami