Helping an Anxious Preschooler

Many adults are familiar with anxiety, but as a parent or caregiver, anxiety in children can feel even worse. Here are some ways you can help your preschooler manage their anxiety, and give them helpful coping skills they can use for the rest of their life.

Recognize the signs of anxiety in preschoolers

Because preschoolers are still developing their language skills and ideas of behavior, you may need to look for non-verbal cues that your child is experiencing anxiety. These signs of anxiety include:

  • Clinginess
  • Crying or tantrums
  • Excessive shyness
  • Unwillingness to do certain things such as go to preschool
  • Jitters
  • Shortness of breath
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Dry mouth
  • Clammy hands
  • Frequent stomachaches or headaches

While some anxious children make their feelings known, other children can be quiet. Anxiety is a very common occurrence in children, but if you believe that your child’s anxiety is causing distress in their everyday life, it’s a good idea to consult their pediatrician.

Discuss your child’s feelings

Your child looks to you for guidance and support, so if they’re experiencing anxiety, take the time to have a calm and open discussion about their feelings. Resist the urge to tell them to relax or promise that everything will be okay. Instead, listen to what your child is saying and acknowledge their feelings as valid. You can also share stories about times you’ve felt anxious in the past.

For example, if your preschooler has started crying when visitors come over, you can say, “When Aunt Louisa came for lunch yesterday, I noticed you seemed very upset. Was something making you feel worried?”

You can also help them to identify their physical reactions to anxiety, and ask them how they felt when they were anxious about something.

Don’t go overboard with avoidance

While it’s not helpful to force your child into an experience that scares them, it can also work against your child to completely avoid the experience. For example, if your preschooler feels anxious about meeting new friends, avoiding parties and busy playgrounds can send the message that new people are scary. It may also tell them that you don’t believe they can improve. Instead, help your child practice confronting their fears in small steps.

Help your child practice coping strategies

Preschoolers can practice coping with anxiety in small, easily-understood activities. For example, helping you blow balloons can help them learn about taking deep breaths. Then, if you notice them starting to get anxious, you can remind them about the time they blew up a balloon.

You can also help your child role-play situations that make them anxious. This is a low-stakes way for you and your child to figure out things they can do to cope in those situations, and practicing those things can increase their confidence.

Talk with your child’s preschool teacher

As your partner in parenting, your child’s preschool teacher can help your child with their anxiety. They may have tips you can use at home, and they can help your child carry out the coping behaviors learned at home.

When helping your anxious preschooler, patience, compassion, and respect will go a long way. You can help your child to recognize and manage their anxiety in a loving and supportive way.