Life with a toddler-in-tow can be a lot of fun. It may also be a bit more complex than the earlier days you spent with your child. There is the realization that they are independent of you, and they are working through thoughts and feelings about themselves and their world. As your munchkin encounters new experiences, you may notice that they are apprehensive, perhaps even anxious.
As a toddler, your child is gaining the skills needed to acquire independence. This is evident in their rapidly growing language and gross motor skills, as well as their desire and ability to express feelings and make decisions. These are the wonderful outcomes of growing up.
What does a toddler’s anxiety look like?
Although language skills are emerging, toddlers may have a hard time communicating their thoughts and fears. Anxiety may manifest itself through tears, outbursts, and other inappropriate behaviors (e.g. hitting, biting, throwing toys).
What can you do?
First, recognize behaviors (mentioned above) in your child that may be signs of anxiety. These behaviors may occur during an experience they are uncertain of and/or in moments, hours, or even days following a situation.
Next, acknowledge your child’s emotions and help provide the words they may be seeking. For instance, if you see behaviors happening and you believe they are associated with the introduction/exploration of a new environment (i.e. preschool), make it clear that you understand: “I know you are worried. It is okay.” It is important to remain a calm force in your child’s world. When you see that they are scared – no matter how you are feeling – you must remain confident.
Make a plan to work through the situation. If the source of anxiety is enrollment in a new program, make a transition plan for your child. Take the time to meet teachers, explore the environment with your child, and work in partnership with the professionals that are working with the program. Trust yourself, trust your child, and trust the individuals you have selected to work with your child. Remember to be consistent in your plan. If your child shows anxiety about your departure, work through a good-bye plan ahead of time (i.e. mommy will give you three hugs and five kisses) and communicate clearly with your child about what will happen next. Children, just like us, need to know what is coming. The unknown and/or the unexpected will fuel anxiety.
Finally, if nothing else is working, don’t back away. Instead, connect with resources you need to work through the situation (i.e. pediatrician, early childhood professional, a children’s librarian who can recommend resources, etc.).