Paging Dr. Smerling: How To Know If Your Child is Anxious, and What You Can Do
Just like adults, children come in all shapes, sizes and temperaments. It’s our job as parents to figure out the best way to help our little ones be the best they can be! This is especially true for parents of anxious children. But how do you know if you have an anxious child? And what can you do to help them shine as brightly as possible? Family therapist Dr. Kathryn Smerling weighs in below.
Recognizing Anxiety in Your 4-Year Old
It’s easy to recognize a happy 4-year old; this preschooler has both inner joy and innocence. It’s almost like a light not yet touched by the trials of growing up. A happy child makes parents smile.
The anxious child, however, is a lot harder to figure out. The anxious child may not always be consistent, may fidget, eat food voraciously or not eat at all, and may have difficulty sleeping. The anxious 4-year old is a little too much like a grown-up. Thinking is more internal and reflective rather than curious and light.
As parents, we are reluctant to recognize these signs; defensive, it may feel reflective of our parenting skills. The axiom falsely goes, “If we acknowledge anxiety, it will appear.” That attitude serves no purpose. While “good enough” parenting has an enormous effect on early childhood, it often does not tell the whole story. We are all hardwired to be unique and your child may have acquired the “wires” to be vulnerable towards anxious feelings.
That said, there are many things we, as parents, can do to recognize anxiety and alleviate it.
-Look your child directly in the eyes when speaking. Lower yourself to their level and be affectionate while you talk. Be interested and be present.
-Get off the phone. A child whose mom and dad are too consumed with themselves will crave attention in negative ways.
-Eat with your child. Children who eat too much or too little often have solitary meals in front of the television. Sitting and making mealtime a pleasurable experience associated with communication, warmth, and good feelings will naturally have the effect to slow your child down.
-Do quiet activities together. Collaborate on a puzzle, shape sorting, art project, board game, etc.
-Read together daily. Place your child on your lap, have them turn the pages so that they associate reading and learning with a positive feeling.
-If sleep becomes a real dilemma make a sleep chart. Explore the patterns and become aware of what you might be doing to exacerbate sleeping irregularity. If necessary and possible, employ a sleep therapist.
-Observe your child and see what the triggers are for their anxiety. Note any specific things that cause your child to exhibit anxious behaviors.
-Learning to recognize and help your child with anxiety requires a calm parent. Make a real effort to leave your daily stressors in a “Ziploc”, so that when you are with your child, you can be fully present. The small act of being mindful of your own behavior will translate into a present parent and a less anxious child.