While adults often believe that children enjoy wonderfully carefree lives, that’s not always true. Pre-schoolers can suffer from anxiety too, especially as they encounter new situations and begin developing fears and phobias.
Some of these “new situations” that can lead to anxiety include, enrolling into a new school, a new family member (like a sibling or helper), and other circumstances that are out of your pre-school child’s control. Children may also develop phobias that make them anxious, like a fear of the dark, insects or animals.
Concerned that your child may be developing anxiety? Look out for these six signs, then allay their worries and help them to overcome these fears.
6 Signs that Your Child May Have Anxiety
#1 - Loss of Appetite
Is your child eating less or even rejecting their favourite foods? Anxiety and eating issues often go hand-in-hand, so an obvious reduction in your child’s appetite may be a clear sign of anxiety.
This is an especially important issue to address early on, as growing children need sufficient nutrition to fuel their growth and development.
#2 - Difficulty Sleeping
Pre-schoolers who have difficulty falling asleep, or who keep waking up in the middle of the night, may be showing signs of anxiety. Anxious thoughts may be keeping your child awake past their bedtime, and may even be leading to bad dreams that wake them up.
#3 - Mood swings, anger and irritability
When pre-schoolers are burdened with worry and fear, they often feel overwhelm and helplessness. When these feelings aren’t seen and understood by parents, they can grow larger and eventually lead to frustration, anger and uncontrollable outbursts.
Remember, while it’s normal for children to throw tantrums and get irritated at times, it’s important to observe your child’s “common behaviours” and notice if these tantrums are outside of their normal behaviour. For example, if your usually mild-mannered child suddenly begins throwing tantrums when asked to do simple tasks, this could be a sign of anxiety.
If you suspect that your child is feeling anxious about a certain situation, talk to them and find out what’s bothering them, instead of immediately scolding or disciplining them.
#4 - Tummy aches
Some children get tummy aches when they feel anxious. And while parents sometimes think their child is just trying to get out of doing something they don’t like, your child could truly be feeling pain in their tummy.
This happens because anxiety releases cortisol, a stress hormone that causes the body to produce additional stomach acid. This can lead to a tummy aches, vomiting and a feeling of “being sick”. If your child has been complaining of stomach pains more frequently, this could be a sign of anxiety affecting their health.
#5 - Avoidance
Does your usually adventurous child suddenly avoid certain places or activities? Or does their generally sociable demeanour disappear when meeting a certain person (or people)? “Avoidance behaviours” like these are possible signs of anxiety that you should take note of.
Should you notice these behaviours, try to find out why your child is anxious or fearful of this place, activity or person. Sometimes, all it takes is an understanding conversation and some coaxing to help your child overcome these fears and feel comfortable and confident again.
#6 - Clinginess
Clingy behaviour is more often observed in younger children (i.e. older infants and toddlers), who haven’t yet developed the verbal skills needed to communicate with their parents – instead, displaying clinginess is their way of showing parents that they need to feel safe in certain situations. An example of clingy behaviour being a sign of anxiousness, is when a usually confident and outgoing child, becomes clingy when a new situation develops in the family – such as the arrival of a newborn sibling.
What to do if your pre-schooler displays signs of anxiety
It’s important to know that anxiety itself, is a sign of other issues that your child may need help with – such as fears of particular situations, environments or people. Anxiety always starts out small, but can grow larger as your child ages – so it’s crucial that parents detect these warning signs early!
The good news is that your young child is still highly adaptable and capable of overcoming any fears and anxieties they may have. What they need is a calm, nurturing environment and a routine that they feel safe and comfortable with. It’s essential to know that the key to helping your child isn’t to eliminate their stresses and worries – but to guide them in coping and dealing with these matters.
Dr. Geraldine Teo-Zuzarte, Director, English Curriculum at NTUC First Campus explains how you can help your child to cope with change in this video.
My First Skool’s Relationships-Based Curriculum
At My First Skool, our relationships-based curriculum (RBC) focuses on building positive, trusting relationships between children and their caregivers – significantly reducing any separation anxiety that children may have when starting at a preschool. Our qualified teachers use routines and caring interactions to build close bonds with children, ensuring your child feels safe and secure in our learning environments. We believe that when a child feels secure, deeper learning can happen. And this belief is backed by science – studies show that our children are more focused and engaged during activities, which allows them to develop confidence and resilience, while learning more effectively.