Inside: Strategies to help your anxious toddler.
Picture this: a 4-month-old strapped to my chest in a Moby wrap, a 2-year-old holding my pinky (because she refuses to hold the entire hand), and a 4-year-old slowly trudging along by my side as I try to hurry us all across a busy street at school pick-up. Big brother was going to be let out of the kindergarten doors in 3 minutes, and I had to get us across the street, through the parking lot, and down to the other end of the building. Normally, I would have had a good parking spot, but of course, potty troubles held us up on this particular day.
So here I am, trying to hustle all my little ducklings across the street before another car came when it happened.
My 2-year-old suddenly and without warning ripped her little hand off my pinky and froze in her tracks.
“Arwyn, come on, babe. We have to go get Alijah.”
I reached my hand out to grab her arm. She let out a whine and sharply turned from me.
Not this. Not right now! I knew exactly what was happening. And if I wanted to get out of the middle of the road, I knew I was going to have to pick her up. I quickly scooped her up into my arms and shuffled out of the street.
And that’s when the wailing started. She may have been paralyzed with anxiety in the middle of the road lined with big trucks and cars, but that didn’t mean she wanted me to pick her up. Gotta love that strong will.
By the time we got Alijah, I was dripping with sweat and exhausted from hauling both little ones, Aspen (my 4-month-old) was getting cranky because of Arwyn’s close proximity, and Arwyn was arched back as far away from me as she could get with tears covering her cheeks and slobber all down her chin and chest. Lexi was content singing something to herself and making little dancing movements in the grass. We were a sight.
When Anxiety Meets a Strong-Willed Child
You may remember my post about my strong-willed daughter. But I don’t just have one anymore. That’s right, folks. My other daughter is just as strong-willed as her big sister (if not more)!
To add insult to injury, anxiety tries to come in and steal my little girl’s joy. Having the one-two punch of strong-willed and anxious in full effect can be exhausting for us mommas. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything we can do!We don't have to feel helpless when our little ones face anxiety.Click To Tweet
First, let’s understand some of the things that can bring on anxiety in our little ones–whether they’re strong-willed or not!
Things that can make our kids anxious
(Note: this isn’t an exhaustive list)
- Not feeling in control of their own body
- Not knowing what to expect
- Needing to feel a secure bond in the parent-child relationship
- Feeling like their own thoughts and feelings don’t matter or that their voice isn’t being heard
- Being tired
- Big life changes
6 Practical Ways to Help Your Anxious Toddler:
While many of these are especially true for headstrong kids, they can be said of almost ALL children.
1) Let them know what the plan is well before it happens.
Mainly, I’m referring to day-to-day activities here. Kids (especially small and strong-willed ones) need fair warning. They need time to adjust. In the story I just shared, this WASN’T our normal pickup routine. Arwyn had never had to cross that street before. She had never been faced with all the cars or staring people. And I hadn’t thought to prepare her for it.
But this also applies to the big things. If there is a big life change coming their way, make sure to talk to them about it multiple times before it actually takes place. Help paint a picture in their mind of what the shift will look like.
2) Give them choices when you can.
No one wants to feel like they don’t have any say in their own life. Sometimes it’s easier to just make all their choices for them. Especially in that toddler stage. We’re used to doing it because we’re used to them being babies. Now they want a little independence, and some of their whims can make us cringe. But try giving them options that you’re comfortable with. For example, at lunch does he want the blue or green plate? Would he like apple slices or a banana? When leaving the house, tennis shoes or boots? The little things go a long way.
3) Hugs. Hugs. And more hugs.
(We need AT LEAST 12 a day!) When my munchkin is frozen in a state of anxiety or upset about things not going her way, more often than not, I can calm her with cuddles. Although, on that day in the middle of the road, she wanted NOTHING to do with me. It’s hit or miss.
4) Listen to them, even over the trivial stuff.
Instead of trying to use logic to dominate their thoughts and feelings (even the irrational ones), show them that you understand. Allow them to feel the way they feel. Chances are, they’re going to feel that way regardless. At least this way, you’ll be in their corner instead of acting as another force fighting against them.
5) Make sure they get enough sleep.
This may seem like a no-brainer. But that doesn’t make it any less important.
If your current bedtime routine is one of the areas of life where anxiety comes in, keep an eye out for an upcoming post I’m writing about our bedtime routine, and see if it would be a good fit for you. Our 2-year-old JUST started sleeping in her own bed and is doing great with it!
6) Speak kindly.
I know how frustrating it can be. Lord knows I’ve had my moments when I snip at her, only making things worse. Proverbs 12:25 tells us, “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs it down, But a good (encouraging) word makes it glad.” (AMP)
The Passion Translation says it like this:
Let’s not put the weight of feeling misunderstood or alone into the hearts of our babies. Instead let’s be kind and uplifting, restoring their joy.
Here’s the thing… there are so many verses about anxiety and snuffing it out with the peace of God. But of course, as toddlers, our little ones don’t have the understanding it takes to rely on Him.
Here’s what we can do:
1) Begin teaching them about God even at this age.
Every morning, we talk about a memory verse. Then I read a snippet from their Bible, and we talk about it. At some point during the day, we worship in our living room. And every night before bed, we have family prayer.
Those are just a few ideas on how to incorporate learning about the Lord into their lives now.
2) In the meantime, be the hands and feet of God to them now.
Trusting the Lord will be easier as they get older if you teach them they can trust you now and always. After all 1) He’s the guy YOU’re telling them about and 2) since He’s the Father, they’ll relate Him to their relationships with their parents. We need to let Him shine through us so we represent Him well.
3) Make your home a place of His peace.
We have the authority in our households. If it’s not of God, kick it out!
Ever walked into a place and gotten a “vibe,” whether it be positive or negative? Sometimes, that’s attached to a spirit. We can actually speak peace and joy into the atmosphere of our homes, mainly by giving God’s Spirit free reign there.
4) Pray verses about anxiety (or fear, if that fits) over them.
Be led by the Spirit in deciding which ones would help them the most, but here are some examples of good verses:
♥ When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. Psalm 56:3
♥ Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken. Psalm 55:22
♥ Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you. 2 Thessalonians 3:16
♥ Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10
♥ For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. 2 Timothy 1:7
A prayer for your child may sound like this:
Lord, I thank You for Your love toward ___. I know that You desire a relationship with her even more than I could want it for her. And with that bond, trust will blossom. God, You see the fear and anxiety that is trying to rise up against her right now. I speak against it, in the name of Jesus! Fear, you have no place in her. Anxiety, you cannot cripple her!
God, I thank You for the wisdom you give me. Thank You for answers as You lead me into all truth concerning how to best help her. Help me to model trust. God, deepen and strengthen my own relationship with You so that I can be a living, breathing example of what full trust in You looks like. If fear or anxiety has come and attached itself to any area of my life, show me Lord so I can eradicate them in my family! Teach us all how to abide in Your peace. In the name of Jesus, Amen!
We can do this!
Dealing with anxiety in any young child can be tough–let alone when they’re strong-willed! But I hope these simple solutions bring you and your little one peace. (And no one freezes with an anxious meltdown in the middle of a busy road!)
Until next time,
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