Recently there was an opportunity for me to join a local women’s group. I was beyond excited since several times a month I would get to gain fellowship with other women, nurture my often neglected self, and there would be childcare provided for my son. A win-win!
There was an added benefit here: My son would have to opportunity to socialize more with other children and learn to experience a new environment. Initially, it turned out to be a really stressful experience for him. The first time he cried on and off the entire time I was gone—toddler anxiety.
Sure he had babysitters before, but they were always someone that he knew. My sweet toddler felt so unsure about the daycare ladies, and it was hard for him to know that I would, of course, be back in no time at all.
Over the next couple of visits to daycare there are three strategies that helped him feel comfortable and cope better with his stressful feelings. I believe these three strategies could help other toddlers feeling anxious too!
Bring a familiar item of comfort.
My son has a blanket that he sleeps with for comfort. He adores that thing, but we mostly restrict its use to sleep situations only. On special occasions we will use it for long road trips or air travel. It helps put his mind at ease and sleep better during travels. Since daycare was such a stressful time for him, I decided to bring his blanket for him. It offered feelings of safety and security, giving him something familiar to hang on to when he felt anxious and uneasy.
Storytelling is a great way to help toddlers process anxiety. It’s especially helpful when they cannot use their words very well to tell a story. Help you toddler make sense of an event before and after it happens.
Research shows that merely assigning a name or label to what a toddler feels literally calms down the activity of the emotional circuitry in a toddler’s brain.
“Today you are going to play group. There will be lots of fun things to do. You get to bring your blanket with you. Mommy will drop you off, but mommy will come back really soon.”
We would retell this story several times right before leaving the house and during the drive to daycare. This helped prepare him for what was about to come next in our day’s routine.
Once we arrived I sat in the room with him. Showed him the toys. Helped him feel comfortable as best I could.
“We are at play group now. Here is a fun toy to play with. Can you show me how it works? This is Lisa, she is going to take care of you while mommy is gone. Lisa will keep you safe. Mommy will be back soon. Mommy will always come back for you.”
“You are upset that mommy is leaving. It’s really hard sometimes. We will miss each other. But mommy will always come back for you.”
Again it sounds very repetitive and redundant, but the more times you say it in various ways, the more likely your toddler can start to process the information.
“You played with all the other kids at play group, right? Did you have a fun time at play group? Mommy dropped you off at play group, but mommy came back for you. Now we are going home.”
“You were sad when mommy first left you at play group. Then you felt better and played with the kids and took a nap.”
What kids often need, especially when they experience strong emotions, is to have someone help them make sense of what’s going on. To put things in order and to make these big and scary feelings so they can deal with them effectively. It’s worked wonders for our son.