11 Signs Of Anxiety In Toddlers And Tips To Deal With It

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Anxiety is common amongst children of all ages, including toddlers. It is not unusual to notice anxiety in toddlers occasionally, but it can be a recurrent event in some cases. Episodes of severe meltdown characterize anxiety in toddlers. Often, toddlers may not tell us how they feel but seem visibly upset. It is more common when they are around strangers or in uncomfortable situations.

Read this post as we talk about the cause, signs, and tips on dealing with anxiety in toddlers.

What Causes Anxiety In Toddlers?

There is no single reason why a toddler could be anxious. Some amount of anxiety during tense situations or in anticipation of an outcome is common (1). However, when the anxiety affects the toddler’s everyday thoughts, behavior, and other aspects of life, it may indicate an anxiety disorder.

Experts believe that genetics and social factors could play a role in the development of anxiety disorder among toddlers (2). Toddlers with a family history of anxiety disorder could be more susceptible to it. Some toddlers may imbibe the behavior when they observe anxiety in caretakers or family members.

Signs Of Anxiety In Toddlers

Anxiety is a natural emotion, and you may spot it easily when the toddler is presented with triggers. Some of the common triggers are fear of the dark, separation from parents, loud noises, fear of insects, and stranger anxiety.

Below are some of the signs and symptoms of anxiety in toddlers (3).

Physical signs

  • Headaches
  • Stomachache
  • Refusal to eat snacks and lunch
  • Restless,
  • Fidgety
  • Hyperactive
  • Distracted
  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Tense muscles
  • Trouble falling or staying asleep

Emotional signs

  • Excessive crying
  • Very sensitive
  • Grouchy
  • Angry
  • Afraid of making minor mistakes
  • Panic attacks
  • Worries about things in the near or distant future
  • Intense separation anxiety
  • Frequent fear of losing a loved one

Behavioral signs

  • Constantly asking questions starting with “what if?”
  • Avoid joining in during class activities
  • Prefers being quiet
  • Refuses to attend the school
  • Avoids social situations such as birthday parties, etc.
  • Frequent tantrums and meltdowns
  • Gives up and says “I can’t do it” even before trying.

A toddler with recurrent anxiety or anxiety disorder is likely to display these symptoms frequently or with severe intensity.

When To See A Doctor?

Consult a doctor if your toddler displays intense anxiety symptoms or displays them frequently since it may indicate anxiety disorder (4). Many symptoms, such as stomach aches and muscle aches, could also occur in other conditions. It is vital to rule out other problems.

You may also see a doctor when your toddler (5):

  • Avoids or stops doing things they enjoyed earlier due to anxiety.
  • Displays behavior different from others of their age.
  • Always has a severe or unusual reaction to stressful situations.
  • Displays intense distress for an extended period after encountering a situation that triggered anxiety.
  • Has anxiety that interferes in their achievement of developmental milestones.

A doctor may check for any possible underlying causes of symptoms to diagnose anxiety. Depending on the diagnosis, the doctor may refer your toddler to a pediatric psychiatrist or behavior therapist.

How To Help The Toddler Cope With Anxiety?

Parents can help their toddlers manage anxiety, fears, and phobias by identifying triggers and teaching the toddler to manage them. Below are some ways to help your toddler cope with anxiety (6).

  1. Validate your child’s feelings and emotions: Validating your toddler’s fear and feelings is the first step towards helping them cope with anxiety. Acknowledge the trigger and its potential to cause distress, but not the anxiety. Display empathy and tell the child that the situation is stressful but temporary, and they can sail through it without burdening themselves with anxiety.
  1. Do not reinforce the child’s fear: While it is essential to accept their fears, you must never reinforce them. If your toddler is anxious, you should never be anxious yourself in anticipation of their behavior since it could encourage the toddler. Be calm and tell the toddler that it is nothing to worry about. Planned ignoring reduces your toddler’s anxiety in situations that can trigger anxiety through observation of caretaker or parent’s behavior.
  1. Introduce new routines: If your child tends to avoid new routines and displays rigidity to their existing ones, it is advisable to create new routines. It is a way to encourage the toddler to face their fears and learn to break them.
  1. Teach ways to manage anxiety: You can help the toddler formulate ways to manage the anxiety caused by various triggers. For instance, distraction works great for some toddlers, while others benefit from focusing on positive thoughts. Try different methods and see what works the best.
  1. Praise their efforts: Toddlers with anxiety need reassurance and constant motivation. If you notice your toddler behaving less anxious than before, praise them with hugs and cuddles. Tell them how they are making progress and that they are a good boy/girl. Praise is essential to reinforce positive behavior among children.

Anxiety in toddlers is a common emotion that they might experience from time to time. Although there is no reason to panic, but if these feelings are affecting their quality of life and interfering with their regular activities, you should seek medical help. At home, you can try and validate your child’s feelings, and also teach them a few tips and tricks for dealing with anxiety when needed. They will eventually become adept at managing anxiety on their own as they grow older.

Key Pointers

  • Toddlers with a familial tendency towards anxiety disorder are more susceptible to developing anxiety.
  • Intense separation anxiety, phobias, severe tantrums, regressions, etc., are some signs of anxiety in toddlers.
  • You can help your toddler by validating their emotions, refraining from reinforcing their fears, and helping them learn ways to cope with anxiety.

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. Anxiety disorders in children; NHS UK
2. Helping Kids with Anxiety; PsyCom
3. Signs of anxiety in young kids; Understood
4. Anxiety disorders Symptoms & Causes; Boston Children’s Hospital
5. Anxiety and fears in children; Raising Children Network
6. Clark Goldstein, What to Do (and Not Do) When Children Are Anxious; ChildMind
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Dr. Meenakshi Maruwada

Dr. Meenakshi is a dentist and a passionate writer with over eight years of experience in dentistry and four years in writing. She started her career as a dentist with a dental chain in Mumbai and soon rose to lead the clinic as a Head Dentist. She then switched to working for two start-ups in healthcare, before beginning her own... more

Dr. Danielle Johnson

(MD)
Dr. Danielle Johnson received her medical degree from Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia. Having been board-certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, she has expertise in treating women’s mental health issues.  Dr. Johnson is an assistant clinical professor in the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences and a board member... more

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