3 Steps to help your anxious preschooler

The preschool years are all about learning how to manage emotions, but some kids needed added support in order to help manage their feelings. Anxiety issues can occur frequently in preschool aged kids. Some estimate it happens in as high as 20% of preschoolers.

The 3 steps below are strategies I often recommend to the parents I work with when their child is dealing with anxiety, but even if your child is not dealing with anxiety problems, these strategies can be helpful.

1 Give Them A Predictable Schedule

Anxiety is all about a fear of the future. In order to best help your preschooler, have a picture schedule that will help them have some understanding of what their day is going to look like. This allows your little one to be able to have less unpredictability in their day and can reduce symptoms of anxiety. There are a million ways you can create a daily schedule. It can be a simple piece of paper posted in a common area of the house, you could use a large poster board, or a schedule inside of a folder. Most important is making it changeable. Using Velcro or magnets, which can be cheaply from Amazon or Walmart, allows you to easily make changes to your child’s day.  You also do not have to have every minute of the day planned out. Simply having a general structure is enough to create the consistency you are looking for to help your preschooler.

2 Talk To Their Feelings

One of the common phrases found in the child therapy world is “name it to tame it.” It means that sometimes emotions can be soothed by simply helping your child to name their feeling. When a child can learn how to name their feelings, it gives them the power to move to the next stage which is learning how to manage them.

Many parents I work with fall into the trap of trying to fix or rationalize the problem. (i.e. As your child cries about not getting the purple cup they wanted, the parent tells them “It is just a cup. We have a million cups to choose from!”). It helps to understand that there are two parts of the brain. There is the emotional right side of the brain and the logical left side. The logical left side is used by the parent when they say, “it is just a cup! why are you crying about a cup? I just had to pay $500 to fix my car. That is a real problem.” The emotional side of the preschooler however is saying “I am so sad that I don’t get to pick my cup. It sucks having grown ups telling me what cups I can and cannot use. No one understands.” These two parts of the brain are speaking very different languages. When a parent speaks logic to an emotional preschooler, it is going to fall upon deaf ears and may lead to an even bigger outburst.

So, what should I do instead, you ask. Start by hearing out your kids emotions. In the above example it could help to start by saying “I get it, you had your heart set on drinking out of your favorite purple cup. It stinks when we can’t get what we really wanted sometimes.” Letting your child process those feelings helps them move to their left side of the brain where you can start to solve the problem. While it is not a fix all and will not stop tantrums every time. I have found, in my work, that it helps much more often than does speaking logic or getting frustrated and yelling.

This strategy also has the added benefit of teaching your child how to express their feelings in the future. After a while of this, maybe your kid will even tell you “aww, man. I really wanted my purple cup. Maybe next time.”

3 Create Mindful Family Time

Mindfulness is an increasingly researched and proven way towards better and happier living. It is one of the go to methods for resolving anxiety issues in adults and kids.

I look at emotions as being on a spectrum and compare it to a rubber band. Stage 1 of the rubber band, there is no tension. Stage 2, someone starts to pull. Continuing to Stage 5 when it is starting to stretch. All the way to stage 10 where if it gets pulled even a little more it is going to snap. Stage 1 is calm, stage 5 is nervous, and stage 10 is panic. Mindfulness helps to keep kids in the lower stages of the emotions and teaches them the skills to move down the stages faster.

Some kids struggle because they are always at a stage 5, so they do not have as far to go before they hit that dreaded panic or tantrum state, but with mindfulness, you are creating more space for them and you to be able to catch their emotions and help them to stay calm and solve problems.

Mindfulness should be a 5-10 minute time for your entire family (it helps adults too!) to sit down and practice being calm. You can use kid mindfulness videos from youtube. Teach your kids yoga poses. Or, just practice ringing a bell and sitting in silence for 5 minutes while taking deep breaths. Any of these strategies are mindfulness and can be incredibly helpful in teaching your child to manage their emotions.

The preschool years are all about trying to learn about ones emotions and learning how to socialize with others. Some kids need some added support as they work through these important developmental stages and the strategies above can help.

If you would like some added support. You can schedule a free 20 minute consultation to determine if your preschooler might benefit from counseling. Simply, click the “get started now button” or give me a call at 513-646-9708.

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