When I think of children and anxiety, I always think of 'Willy's Worries'. A worksheet we use where we ask children to draw their worries inside this cartoon figure. It's a great first step about talking to kids about what a 'worry' is, what fears are and anxiety. I like how it has the child fill in his worries inside his stomach since that is where most kids hold their emotions in and get 'tummy aches.'
But their inexperiences are also what makes the toddler stage so cute sometimes. I love to see their reaction to new things, like when their faces light up when we drive by Christmas lights and our daughter exclaims, "oooh, look! Christmas lights!!"
But when new experiences are scary to them, it can become a problem. Like the other day my husband was giving our child a bath and he thought it would be funny to turn on the shower head to splash a little water on her. Uhm, let's just say it didn't go as planned. The poor thing started crying and wanted to get out of the bath and refused to take a bath the rest of the week saying, "I'm scared of the shower mommy!" She has seen me take a shower in my shower before, but had not seen water come out of her own bathroom's tub. Ugh, so my husband learned a little lesson that our daughter doesn't like to be teased and to basically be careful when introducing new experiences to her.
It reminds me of the time we spent Christmas at my grandparent's house when I was 4 years old (the only time we ventured away from our own home on Christmas Eve as a child), and I was sooo afraid that Santa would get lost trying to find where I had gone. I could not go to sleep and was afraid that he would try to come in through my bedroom window lost. The thought of a big man carrying a large sack sneaking into my bedroom window scared me to death!! As much as I loved Santa, I was afraid of him too, weren't you?
And even when I was a little bit older, I remember watching a show on TV where a woman went blind all of a sudden and I had this fear that it would happen to me. I walked around for a few days in fear that one day I wouldn't be able to see. Lesson learned that I will need to censor my children's TV watching :) Children take things so literally and believe that what happens on TV will come true. I'm sure you have a few memories of TV scaring you as a kid, or some horror movie that made you sneak into your parent's room every night for the next year.
Children can develop what seems to us, super irrational fears. But to them they are very real and scary. Especially to a young child, who is barely 3 feet tall and everything in the world is super big and huge to them.
The best things to do?
-First thing is to always remember that children turn to their parents to see how they react to events. If your child falls down and you have this look of horror on your face, then your child is going to read your expression and have the same reaction, the, "ohhh nooo!! Moommmyy!!!! Help!!" and the non stop crying begins. But if you look like it's no big deal, and 'brush it off' then it will help them remain calm.
-Try to always keep in mind that big or new experiences can be frightening to a child and to introduce them slowly.
-If a child tells you they are scared or afraid of something, don't deny their feelings and say, "why?" or "there's no need to be scared." Denying their feelings of fear at first will dismissing their feeling and can make it even worse.
-So try to first acknowledge the feeling, "you are telling me that you are scared of the shower, and that it is scary to you.?" "I can see how that would be scary to you since you have never seen that before." "We won't turn it on again until you want me to, but remember it's just water coming out of it and grown-ups use it to take showers and get clean"
-Let them have the control, like asking them to turn the water faucet on themselves when they are ready
-Also, try not to elaborate too much and give too much information, like a science report on what lightening is and giving elaborate detail, sometimes too much information can make the fear even worse!
-For older kids, you can begin by talking about fears like filling out the Willy's Worries worksheet. Sometimes you have first make sure they understand the meaning of the word 'worry' and then go from there.
If you feel like your child has more worries than normal, or an event has happened that has caused them anxiety, it's a good idea to find a good play therapist in your area to help them get past what is bothering them. It may only take a couple of sessions to help get through it but they will also learn how to adjust to new anxieties as they go through life.