Anxiety in babies and children

Anxiety is a normal and an appropriate response when a child is in a stressful situation. A child may cry, cling to a parent, and/or have sleep disturbances. It is completely normal and considered developmentally appropriate when your infant displays anxiety when placed with novel people, situations, or environments. This is called stranger anxiety and typically begins to appear between 7-8 months. At around 12-15 months of age, toddlers can also experience separation anxiety, when the parent or primary caregiver are not present.

Remember that this is all normal and is a good sign of a healthy secure attachment to parent or caregiver. When children encounter anxiety-provoking situations, it’s important to ensure safety and security. Create a positive environment to validate and encourage your child.

When my boys encounter new situations and new environments and new people, they typically have a blank stare. They’re more on the shy side at first, and sometimes they will even stare for up to 15 minutes without moving. But as time progresses, they warm up and now as they’re nearing 16 months, we go to many new places all the time and now the boys warm up so much quicker.

However, if needed, my boys definitely enjoy hugs and kisses and snuggling up with us. They also like to use their soft blanket. Wyatt likes to suck his thumb while holding his blanket and Owen like to use his pacifier while holding his blanket. For the twins, these have been tools to self-soothe when they experience a situation that may create anxiety.

Anxiety into school years and beyond

Stranger anxiety at the baby/toddler age and developmental stage is appropriate and most children will be able to eventually overcome it.

However, some children may continue to experience anxiety into their school years, so it is important to be attentive to how they respond to unfamiliar situations. Observe and see whether their anxiety level seems atypical for for their developmental stage or when it persists for several weeks or months. The brain works in a way that your thinking affect how you feel and behave.

Types of anxious thoughts/behaviors

  • pessimism–this is when you expect that the worst will happen and that you won’t succeed. It is the negative attitude in how you may view yourself, the world, or the future.
  • worry–this often happens when a person constantly imagine or thinks about all the possible negative events that could occur.
  • obsessive thinking or behavior–holding onto certain thoughts and behaviors can cause a person to have increased levels of anxiety. these thoughts may preoccupy the mind that they relive and rethink the thoughts over and over. behaviorally, a person may feel the need to perform a certain task repeatedly.
  • perfectionism–having high standards on yourself or others have the effect of setting up for failure which may result in increased anxiety
  • catastrophizing–this is the tendency to make a single problem into a catastrophic problem. one small problem can ruin a whole day or week.
  • guilt or shame–the feeling that you have behaved in an unacceptable manner and the feeling that other people will percieve you in a negative way.
  • right brain–this is relative to the right hemisphere of the brain where a person may percieve on negative information through a visually or auditorily. They feel that they hear or feel rejection/judgemental statements and imagine certain pictures of how potential situations will pan out.

Anxiety affects 3-5% of the population and is considered a common disorder with prevalence higher in females. It can be generalized or specific (phobias). Anxiety can affect daily life activites and can cause significant problems in personal, social, or academic performance. When children begin to think in a thought pattern that may increase anxiety, it is important to intervene!

Tips to help a child who is experiencing anxiety

  • pay attention to your child’s feelings and take them seriously. do not treat their feelings as unimportant or silly
  • stay calm, patient, and ready to listen when child becomes anxious
  • recognize, acknowledge, and praise small accomplishments. reinforce effort. prime and practice upcoming events.
  • do not punish for failures or lack of progress. avoid being overly critical. do not communicate perfection and allow for mistakes
  • maintain consistency in daily routine but be willing to be flexible and modify expectations during stressful situations
  • teach coping strategies
  • seek professional help. reach out to pediatrician or children’s therapist. reach out to the school for possible counseling interventions.

anxiety resource for all ages!

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