I am going to use some of these strategies in helping Aidan.
Strategies and Activities
The following information contains strategies and activities to help infants, toddlers, and preschoolers cope with their feelings of anxiety. Some of the following strategies and activities can be used with infants, toddlers and preschoolers, while others are specific to one age group. All of the strategies and activities can be modified to suit the child's or the setting's needs.
Strategies and Activities for Infants, Toddlers, and Preschoolers
Regular health and developmental check ups.
Sometimes children may have health problems that cause them to feel anxious. For this reason, children must regularly see a health care professional such as a doctor or nurse.
Help caregivers to understand their child's temperament/personality.
Educate caregivers about temperament/personality differences.
Ask questions about their child's personality, including a discussion of their:
Levels of crying.
Reactions to change.
Levels of frustration.
Help caregivers to create routines in the home and other care environments to accommodate their child's needs.
Help the child to deal with separations.
Introduce the child to potential caregivers before leaving the child in the care of someone new.
Tell the child what is going to happen several times before it actually happens (remind the child at least 5-10 minutes beforehand).
If you are leaving, tell the child when you will be back and include a time frame that can easily be understood (e.g., "I will see you right after snack time.").
Encourage the child to choose a favourite toy or other objects to help cope with new situations.
Soft and comforting objects such as blankets and toys are healthy substitutes to help children deal with new and possibly stressful situations.
Have caregivers recognize their own emotions toward a separation experience.
A child looks toward a caregiver for reassurance of safety and confidence.
Caregivers need to recognize their own feelings and any apprehensions they may have concerning situations where their child may experience anxiety.
Set a positive tone to the situation while acknowledging the child's feelings
Encourage the caregiver not to dwell on the situation, as this may increase the child's anxiety. A quick good-bye can sometimes be the most helpful thing a caregiver can do.
If the caregivers still feel uneasy, encourage them to call the centre and check on their child.
Some centres also feel comfortable with caregivers staying with the child during programming. Check with the policies of the centre for what can be done to make the child and caregiver more comfortable.
Remember that some fears are age appropriate.
Be aware that it is normal for children to have fears that, by adult standards, may seem farfetched (e.g., monsters under the bed).
These fears may actually disappear on their own, as children develop and have more experiences.
Follow the ABC's when observing behaviours.
The ABC's (antecedents, behaviours, consequences) is based on a behavioural model of observing and understanding behaviours. When trying to understand a child's feelings of anxiety, try using the following to understand their behaviours better
What are the events that happened before the anxious behaviour occurred?
Who was involved?
Where did it happen?
When did it happen?
What did the child do or not do in the situation?
Describe all of the behaviours that occurred (i.e., verbal and physical actions) with the child and anyone else involved.
What occurred after the behaviour?
What type of intervention was used?
How did the caregivers/peers respond?
How did the situation end?
Did the behaviour continue, gain intensity, or stop?
How did the child respond
Support caregivers with children who experience anxiety.
Ask the caregivers about their own developmental history. Sometimes earlier experiences of caregivers may affect the care they provide for their children.
If a caregiver experiences a stressful situation, a referral to an agency or support group may help.
Also, encourage caregivers to support one another by sharing experiences and discussing different techniques and strategies.
Infant Strategies and Activities
Help the infant to interact with new people.
Approach the infant slowly. Both caregiver and stranger should be sensitive to any signs of wariness (e.g., an upset face) or withdrawal (e.g., such as an infant clutching his/her caregiver) when they occur.
Let the infant get to know the new person on his/her own terms and at his/her own pace. Do not rush the infant but let the infant determine how close to get.
New people should be introduced gradually before the infant is left in their care:
Infant is left with the new person, while caregiver is in the room.
Infant is left with the new person, while caregiver is just outside the room.
Infant is left with the new person for short periods of time, gradually increasing to the desired length of time.
Toddler and Preschooler Strategies and Activities
Explain the new situation to the child.
Describe what will happen briefly and clearly.
Try to have eye contact with the child as you are speaking (if this is a culturally appropriate way to interact).
During the week, remind the child regularly about the situation and what will happen so that the child is prepared to some degree.
Let the child know ahead of time (5-10 minutes) on the day when the separation may occur.
Visit the location in advance. Show the child where things are located. Introduce the child to the educator/teacher.
Talk about the anxiety with the child.
Help the child describe or label what frightens him/her and to ask questions about the situation.
Be empathetic to the child's feelings of anxiety.
Use phrases such as, "It is ok to feel this way."
If the child is stressed, reassure the child before, during, and after the situation through words and physical comfort (e.g., hugging).
Help the child feel in control.
Let the child create a routine. This may include allowing him/her to choose clothes, or encouraging him/her to set up a calendar where he/she can keep track of the days of the week. This will help the child feel that he/she has control over his/her life.
Try distracting the child.
Sometimes anxiety can be reduced if the child has a familiar toy or object nearby. Present the child with familiar objects with which to play and interact.
These objects can include items like stuffed animals and blankets.
Introduce activities where children can manipulate objects and be soothed by the activity such as arts and crafts, water play, sand play, and play dough.
Objects such as puppets, dolls, blocks, and toy cars may help distract and provide relaxation for children and may help them to cope with their anxiety.
Engage in physical activities such as 'Ring around the Rosie,' and 'Duck, Duck, Goose.'
Engage in interactive activities such as story telling and songs. Stories that deal with fearful situations may help children cope with stress, while songs may help them channel their energy and communicate their feelings.
Use humour to help the child laugh and feel less distress during an anxious situation. Find creative ways to help the child feel at ease.
Set an example for the child.
Be calm, assured, and relaxed in new situations, and demonstrate a level of confidence.
Children can learn by example and may also begin to feel success in situations where they feel anxious.
Summing It Up
During infancy, young infants start out rather fearless in new situations. As they begin to recognize their caregivers and the familiarity of situations, they begin to develop feelings of distress and anxiety. They express these feelings through being wary and cautious in new situations. They also begin to feel separation and stranger anxiety when they are separated from their caregivers and placed with adults unfamiliar to them.
Toddlers are known for their energy levels and sense of adventure. Their explorations encourage them to become more independent from their caregivers. They also develop mastery of situations and take an initiative in recreating these situations.
Preschoolers have become more sophisticated in the fears they experience; situations that caused anxiety in the past do not do so now. They also remember events, and therefore can anticipate different situations that in the past would have caused them grief. Attending a preschool or child care program can be a stressful experience for a preschooler, as they must adjust to separating from their caregivers for longer periods of time.
Acquired fear: A fear that develops when a relatively safe situation reminds the child of a fearful situation experienced in the past.
Adaptive: Having a thought, emotion, or behaviour that is helpful to engage in.
Anxiety: A feeling of uneasiness in anticipation of an experience.
Coping skills: Behaviours and attitudes used to help one deal with a situation.
Distress: Feelings of anxiety and unhappiness.
Fear: Emotion caused by a feeling of worry, anxiety, or distress towards an object, person, or experience.
Independence: To rely on one's self and not others.
Initiative: The ability to take a lead in an activity/situation.
Maladaptive: Having a thought, emotion, or behaviour that is unhelpful to engage in.
Mastery: Having accomplished an activity or gained control over a situation.
Object permanence: A development in infancy around 8-10 months of age where objects (including people) are permanent and exist when out of the infant's view.
Separation anxiety: A feeling of anxiety and distress a child feels when separated from his/her caregiver; initially develops between 9-12 months of age.
Stranger anxiety: A feeling of anxiety and distress when a child is with a person other than his/her caregiver(s) and with whom he/she is unfamiliar; initially develops between 9-12 months old.
Wary look: A look of hesitation and uncertainty. In infancy, can include the following behaviours: becoming quiet, staring, knitting one's brows, sombre (i.e., gloomy) expression, looking away.