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Take My Hand and Grow Young with Me: Calming Children's Anxiety

Posted by on in Early Childhood
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Yes, I know what childhood should  be… a carefree, joyful time of no worries and playful days. For the most part, that was my childhood and may have been for many of you, as well. So, it may be hard to consider the reality of a young child experiencing anxiety.

For sure, there have always been children living at risk, in marginal environments, or with domestic conflict or violence, or dealing with the repercussions of poverty. In the past, however, the stress or anxiety children suffered was the result of living and breathing it. Today, children who may have little actual risk in their family situation are getting it secondhand from the media and adult reaction to it.

Some children are more prone to anxiety than others. This happens for two reasons. First, due to genetics, they may react more strongly to stressful information or situations. And secondly, being young children, they don’t yet have the coping skills they need to roll back their strong feelings.

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We can, however, help even very young children get a handle on how they react to and process what is making them anxious. Some suggestions are…

Anticipate situations that may be troubling. Turn off the TV if the news anchor announces what you know will be a disturbing news story is up next. Also, refrain from leaving the TV on if you aren’t going to be in the room to monitor content.

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Keep tabs on how you react to stressful information. Toddlers and preschoolers rely heavily on social referencing in deciding and learning how they should react. Learn to keep calm and avoid verbal and emotional outbursts, which can become a child’s working response model and fuel for his anxiety.

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Establish some predictable routines. Days that are fraught with schedule changes and unpredictability put young children on edge, just as they do for adults! You can always have room for flexibility, but some things, like bedtime and meals, should be dependable. Knowing what and when to expect basic daily events provides calm and security that can offer resilience to children, when faced with something disturbing.

Teach simple relaxation techniques. This can help them learn to self-soothe when they feel anxious and step it down to a more manageable level. Closing their eyes and taking some deep breaths or visualizing themselves in a happy, safe place can give them tools to use, even when they are by themselves.

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Be observant for signs of anxiety. This will most likely be something subtle that perhaps only someone intimately familiar with the child will notice. It may be a change in appetite, clinginess, sleep problems, complaining about not feeling well, hyperactivity, or becoming quiet and withdrawn.

Recognize when some outside help is needed. Some children just won’t respond to our best efforts and will need some additional help. It is so important to suggest this if it is warranted. Unresolved anxiety can metamorphose into childhood or adolescent mental illness.

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Every child is unique. We can never be sure what and how much anxiety will trigger a lifelong struggle. Being aware, proactive, and advocating for early intervention will enable more children to find calm and to fully participate in a happy childhood.

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Debra Pierce is professor of Early Childhood Education at Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana. Ivy Tech is the nation's largest singly accredited statewide community college systems, serving nearly 200,000 students annually.

Her professional background has always involved children, over the past 40 years, having been a primary grades teacher in the Chicago Public School system, a teacher of 3 and 4 year-olds in a NAEYC accredited preschool for 15 years, and a certified Parent Educator for the National Parents as Teachers Program.

Debra is a certified Professional Development Specialist for the Council for Professional Recognition. She has taught CDA courses to high school career/tech dual credit juniors and seniors in preparation for earning their CDA credentials. She also conducts CDA train-the-trainer events across the country and develops and teaches online CDA courses for several states, is a frequent presenter at national and state early childhood conferences, and is a Master Trainer for the states of Minnesota and Arizona. She was also awarded the NISOD Teaching Excellence Award by the University of Texas.

Debra is active in her community, supporting children's literacy and is on the board of directors of First Book in Indianapolis. Debra is a contributing author for Hamilton County Family Magazine and Indy's Child in Indianapolis.
She loves spending time with her two grandsons, Indy, who is 7 and Radley, 3.

Debra has spent the last 16 years dedicated to the success of those pursuing the CDA credential and is the author of The CDA Prep Guide: The Complete Review Manual for the Child Development Associate Credential, now in its third edition (Redleaf Press), the only publication of its kind. She hosts a website providing help and support to CDA candidates and those who train them at http://www.easycda.com
The comments and views expressed are not in collaboration or affiliation with The Council for Professional Recognition or Ivy Tech Community College.
Follow me on Twitter at /easycda

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Guest Friday, 17 August 2018