Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Childhood Anxiety

A Reader asked:
"Hi do you have suggestions for helping a toddler (2.5 yr old) deal with anxiety? She's scared of insects & loud noises such as the smoke alarm & vacuum cleaner. She's also recently told me she's scared of santa. Her fears seem to be increasing so I am growing concerned for her. Many thanks."

Dear Friend,
You are a conscious and thoughtful parent to see your child's distress and to seek help in healing it.  I offer you a big hug and the warmest of smiles, because I can tell that you are fully Awake and Aware in your responsibilities as a mother.

Your 2.5 year old daughter is also fully conscious and aware of her feelings and needs.  She has shown you that she is afraid of certain situations or things or sounds or people.  She has shown YOU her fears because she trusts you to protect her and to create a safe environment for her so that she can get on with the important business of her life:  exploring, learning, discovering, playing, growing and maturing.

As much as is possible, avoid situations that bring out your child's fears and anxiety.  Hold her trust in you as a sacred privilege and don't ask her to do what she is telling you she is not yet capable of handling.  She is doing the best that she can do already, based on her knowledge and experience of the world.

When she is in an unavoidable situation where she is demonstrating her anxiety, respect her authenticity by doing whatever she asks:  leaving the place or holding her or shielding her from unwanted attention.  Tell her, "Yes, I can see you are scared.  Mommy will stay with you."  Validate without adding drama.  Empathize and empower.  Do not try to talk her out of her fear or ask her to engage in an activity she is scared of.  She will learn to trust her instincts when you honour her feelings and her trust in you will deepen also.

Are you worried that she will never get over her fears or that her fears are unreasonable?

Let me share something personal:  I have been afraid of frogs ever since I accidentally stepped on one when I was about 7 years old.  I understand that they cannot hurt me, yet if someone brought one into the room this instant I would run away and hide behind a locked door.  Now imagine if the person who loves me the most in this world decided without my permission that he was going to teach me to get over my fear by regularly exposing me to frogs.  Would I get over my fear?  Maybe eventually I would.  But I would also develop a resentful attitude toward the person who did not respect my fears and who wanted to impose his own agenda on me.  I would no longer trust him to accept and love my authentic self.

Similarly, there is no reason to try to 'train' your child out of her fears, unless you want her to develop a mistrust of you or her other caregivers.  Most childhood fears will naturally dissipate as the child matures.  The fears that persist deserve to be respected and honoured.  Your relationship with your daughter is bigger and more lasting than her fears.

Offer yourself the enormous love and respect that you deserve for caring so much about your daughter.  Release your own anxiety about her fears and let yourself fall into a deep, deep trust of her and all that she communicates to you.  You are her role model and she is your mirror--when your anxiety disappears, so will hers.

For Freedom and Joy,


  1. a much needed reminder in these make your kid perform perfectly times. honoring all the members of your family is of supreme importance. thank you

  2. Thanks so much, this is really helpful.

    - McFly

  3. Another option that I've used VERY effectively when helping my clients process through phobias is to have them imagine the thing that terrifies them (in your case, frogs) as a lovable cartoon character. Imagine yourself becoming friends with and holding it. I have never seen a client retain their phobia after this exercise (unless it was something that could truly harm them.)

  4. Excellent suggestions Patti--it's amazing how so many of us are taught that our fears are something we need to fix, hide, get over, ignore, be ashamed of. What everyone needs more than anything is more love, more trust, more respect, for security.
    As a former occupational therapist if I may suggest the mom to keep track of the auditory sensitivities. Kids in general are more sensitive to loud noises, but some kids can be extremely sensitive and even defensive. Sensory sensitivity is not behavioral at all as they can't help it, but they do need emotional support and even help with anticipating. If sensory defensive, some children develop a real mistrust of their environment as they are in a state of constant fight or flight. Not saying that this reader's daughter has this--but it's something to be aware of if it gets worse.

    Happy New year Patti!! Much love to you and your family!!

  5. This post really resonates with me. I was a very anxious child (but somehow turned out into the least anxious adult ever--go figure). My 2.5 year old son is just as anxious as I was as a child, though. He asks about every noise, freaks out when the doorbell rings, and is afraid of Santa too!

    The thing that really bothers me is when others try to force him to "face his fears." When Santa visited daycare, Baby T didn't want to sit on his lap. But he was asked if he wanted to at LEAST 20 times!! The fact that he was clinging to me and saying he didn't want to should have shut everyone up the first time. On Christmas eve, he told us he was afraid that Santa was coming to his house and he didn't want to see Santa. (He didn't realize Santa doesn't actually come hang out with him). But the fact that he was so fearful of Santa and Christmas really made me sad, because I felt like it was brought on by so many people trying to force him to like Santa.

    I like your comment about how your children share their fears with you because they trust you and you don't want to do anything to lose that trust. That's important to remember.

  6. Wise, thoughtful, and oh so true advice, Patti!