Learning about early anxieties - I



Everyone, right from a toddler to an adult experiences anxiety at one time or the other in their life and it is closely related to fear which is another normal and necessary emotion that everyone experiences. Anxiety is often associated with an anticipated fear of something happening in future and is very common among children between ages 2 to 6 years. There are various kinds of anxieties in children and their nature keeps changing with the child’s growth.

  • Just born kids experience “Stranger Anxiety” when confronted by people they don’t recognise and are often seen clinging to parents/people they see on a regular basis.
  • At toddler stage, a child experiences “Separation Anxiety” when one or both the parents leave the child in the environment he is not used to.
  • Children in the age group of 4 to 7 have anxiety for things that don’t exist in reality but terrifies them like ghosts, monsters and zombies.
  • “Social anxiety” is seen in many children as young as 2 years and they often have the fear of meeting and interacting with people and often have few friends outside the family.

What causes anxiety/phobia/fear?

Genetic makeup of a child:

Like many other traits that a child picks up from his/her parents, anxiety is also one such trait that genetically gets transmitted to a child and are born with anxious temperament and seem to be anxious of many situations without any external influence. 

Transitions in the family:

As the child grows up, he goes through a lot of transitions in the family that could range from addition of a new member in the family to the loss of an existing one. Anxiety can develop through transition from staying at home to going to school and making new friends and mastering new tasks. 

Disturbing incidents in the past - Internal:

Every family goes through multiple phases of life and there; will be instances where parents might separate leaving the child in a confused and a traumatised state. In many of the cases a child gets disturbed both mentally and physically when two families (staying together as an extended family) gets separated after a long time of staying together. Extended separation from the family members can also add to the levels of anxiety. 

Disturbing incidents in the past - External:

There are various external factors that can mentally affect the child especially when he/she is growing up in a place where there is a probability of community violence, natural disasters etc.

Apart from the above mentioned broader categories, there may be various other reasons that can make a child anxious, but not in a healthier way. Recurrence of such behaviour can help a parent identify them and take necessary steps to overcome it. 

Separation Anxiety

Your toddler cries as soon as she sees you starting to leave ! 

He/she hates to say goodbye because you won’t be seen around. What’s going on?

The first sign of this major developmental milestone will be an anxious reaction to unfamiliar people. As your pre-schooler begins to realise, that you are not there by his side, the anxiety steps in and peaks with the duration of 10 – 18 months. Separation anxiety is a common developmental phase which triggers the development of two common fears: a fear of strangers and a fear of being separated from you. This happens mostly when parents are the only caregivers and children tend to trust only on the caregivers. Hence goodbyes tend to confuse and upset them.

Having a few coping strategies can help the child overcome the anxiety. Following are some tips that can help you prepare your child for separation?

  • Gently introduce her/him to new situations and people. This will minimise her/his reactions and acclimatise to new places or people and may eventually give her an assurance her that this is normal.
  • Let your baby knows that she/he has other caregivers. Give her/him time to play or talk with the caregiver and get comfortable. Babies who are used to having other caregivers get over separation anxiety faster when they enter the preschool or kindergarten stage or are admitted into a new playschool.
  • Make goodbyes lighter and quicker. Don’t prolong goodbyes or resort to sneaking out. It’s best to let your child know you’re going and that you’ll be back soon.
  • Take a trial. If you’re leaving your toddler in a day care centre/playschool or plan to leave with a caregiver, first try out for an hour or so.  As your baby becomes familiar with the place and the people, you can extend the timing. Eventually, your child will get used to it and will remember that you return after you leave.
  • One thumb rule is don’t linger or turn-around to get a quick look while you are leaving. Also, once you leave the baby, don’t go back again to check her/him. This will only make it harder on her/him. You can just call and check if she/he is alright.
  • Keep your promises. It's important that you don’t make false promises. When you have promised to return, follow through it. This is how your child will develop confidence and cope with the separation.  This also helps kid develop coping skills and begins to learn the fundamental of what is once committed needs to be followed through.
  • Timing is everything. Don’t start a day care when the separation anxiety is at its peak i.e. between the age of 8 months to 1 year. And never force the child to go to someone if she doesn't want to. When you do this, child's stranger anxiety will evolve into full-fledged separation anxiety. Let her make acquaintances at her own pace.
  • Remember stranger anxiety can be a good sign that you and your child have a healthy attachment, which is essential for emotional development.
To understand this phenomena better listen to Oi Playschool’s Expert talk by clicking here:  http://bit.ly/2dz14qS