Stress and anxiety aren’t quite the emotional reactions you would think a doe-eyed toddler could possibly experience so early on in life. Regular tantrums, coughing fits, thumb-sucking or constant complaints of tummy aches and many of the behavioural changes that we tend to brand as bad behaviour could be tell-tale signs of brewing stress or anxiety in the little ones.
The triggers could range from the arrival of a new baby in the family to them starting nursery or playschool, witnessing a frightening event, accidentally getting exposed to violence on TV or something as simple as the introduction of toilet training (if they are not ready for that new milestone yet).
So how do you handle stress in toddlers?
It’s natural for your ‘keep calm’ oath to go flying out of the window when nothing you do to appease your toddler seems to make a difference, and they look like they have their foot firmly planted on the ‘stubborn’ button. But as psychologists point out, parental stress can get passed on to the kids. Their sensitive little antennae will be quick to pick up your emotions, and you’d be kindling their stress if you work yourself into a frenzy.
The mantra here is to remind yourself to stay calm.
If, for instance, your toddler routinely kicks up a tantrum when you put them in the car seat, speak to them calmly and let them know you understand their feelings, but without giving in to their negative behaviour. Give them the message that you acknowledge their feelings, reassure them there’s nothing to be scared of and subtly allow them to learn to conquer their fears by not taking them away from what triggered it in the first place. But make sure the tone of your voice and your body language exudes a sense of calm to the little one.
Follow a routine
Following a routine for the major activities of the day helps to keep their little minds from getting overwhelmed and gives them a sense of control. As with adults, children tend to get stressed more easily when they are overtired and sleep-deprived. Though sometimes unavoidable, it’s best not to push their nap-times and meal-times to suit the time-schedule of the rest of the family. A predictable routine, plenty of sleep and a healthy diet can help them cope better with the stressors and challenges of growing up.
Be aware of what they watch
It’s important to be aware of what the children are inadvertently exposed to on TV and the internet. Make sure you set parental controls if you give them access to your tablets. It just takes a few accidental swipes on the screen to take them from their baby shark videos to potentially damaging content that can disturb their impressionable minds and impact their behaviour.
Shower them with a bit of extra affection
Although it’s a major step in building their adaptability, getting pushed out of their comfort zone to a nursery or a new environment can be a scary journey that would take time for them to get used to. Giving them an extra dose of cuddles and kisses can trigger the release of happy hormones (oxytocin) in their body which can reduce stress, improve resilience and give them a sense of security.