Whether your child is an infant, toddler, or older, they all struggle with venturing into the unknown.
They struggle with these HUGE emotions that make them freeze in the moment or break down into a meltdown to end all meltdowns.
They happen in public, at family get-togethers, and right when you think things are going just fine.
All kids go through phases of needing a little extra help and a little more love to carry them through changes in their lives and anxieties they face.
Jenn was a social butterfly when she was younger, but became more reserved and unsure through her later toddler years because of anxiety.
Over the years, we have found ways to help coach each of our children through anxieties and help each cope accordingly with uneasy emotions that they feel.
Anxiety and needing a little extra “umph” in social situations is actually a sensory need that almost all kids have and go through even if just in phases. Verbal coaching through anxiety can be a great way to help our children bolster their confidence and face the world in front of them.
What do I mean by Verbal Coaching for your toddler’s big worries?
Verbal coaching is all about opening safe communication about future events with your child. While it can be two-way communication where as a parent you answer questions, calm fears, and help your child understand the environment they are going into, it can also be very one-sided.
For our children, we have used verbal coaching to help approach new stages and experiences in life.
This includes situational coaching for big events that might otherwise be intimidating, like going to a crowded and very visually stimulating hot air balloon festival or anywhere that she could have a potential sensory overload.
My social butterfly child broke down one Sunday. She absolutely lost her mind and wanted to have nothing to do with Sunday School and I had to go get her.
Walking around the Sanctuary, I could hear her sobbing from 50 feet away and it wasn’t until she saw me that the tears lifted and she came running to me with sheer relief.
I would never leave her.
She knew that.
She could play.
She also knew that.
But it was that Sunday that the toddler anxieties crept into part of who she was and we quickly realized that she needed coaching to help her through even small transitions with people she was not around every single day.
The next week we started talking to her about going to church and playing with kids in the nursery. And the phrase that we continued to repeat became “play with kids”. So then Sunday came around and as we drive to church we emphasized that she would get to “play with kids at church”.
Walking in, we told her “look, we are at church!” and then we got to the nursery and said “look, there are kids!”. And though the separation anxiety was still there and she was somewhat hesitant, after walking her in and showing her that she could play with kids, she happily hugged us goodbye and enjoyed the entire time in there with no problems. We have been able to do this for months and it has worked very well just opening that line of communication with her.
How to Help Kids Cope with Anxiety and Social Worry
Have trigger words, or phrases you repeat.
Not only do we have “play with kids”, but we also talk up situational changes to help her take ownership like when confronted with things like adapting to new siblings or confronting extended family at parties.
Whether with a toddler or an older child, it’s important to address their fears.
There is an underlying reason as to why they are not comfortable with the situation at hand. Maybe they are going through a clingy phase. Maybe there is a child that is bullying them. Maybe something spooked them. Maybe they are uncomfortable with something. Just be patient and work through it with them.
For me as a child, I had tactile sensory issues with clothing and working through the problems with me as a child helping ease my anxieties immensely.
Create Safe Communication.
Even with tots, we can communicate with our kids openly and make sure they know it’s safe to share with us their concerns. We understand language before we can speak it, so even small babies and toddlers that aren’t as verbal can easily be coached.
They need to feel validated and not undermined. Saying something like “we will make it through this” is a much better option because it indicates they are not alone and their needs are being addressed.
Set Expectations and set the environment up for success.
Even if it’s a young child staying with dad or another family member while mom is gone, this can be a source of stress.
So when leaving her with someone, I set up a caregiver basket with all of her favorite things, a guide to her behaviors and traits, and everything the person caring for her might need to help get by but also everything they could use to help comfort her if needed.
For instance, in my babysitting basket, I make sure to indicate what words she uses most often, what they sound like phonetically, and what sign language she used so that we could help my daughter not encounter frustrations with a communication barrier.
Furthermore, showing a child pictures of the people watching them and discussing what they might do that day or night is a great way to verbally coach them through the situational needs they might have.
Let the child choose their own boundaries.
In big groups of family, my daughter retreats.
She doesn’t want to be touched, talked to, or bothered… especially not before she has warmed up to each person.
I let her set her own boundaries.
If she wants to stay near me, then she can and I will not force her to go to anyone. We also are a very hands-off family in that kissing and hugging are not required, they are optional and the absence of them is not the absence of love.
Instead, my daughter typically chooses to “bond” with others. This is where she extends and finger to touch the other person’s finger. It gives her her own personal space while still recognizing the other person. It was something we taught her, but what she has decided she prefers.
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Kara is an author and advocate for positive, grace-filled parenting. She is homeschooler to her 4 children living in Boston, MA and believes in creative educational approaches to help kids dive deeper into a rich learning experience. She has her degree in Secondary Education & Adolescent Childhood Development and is passionate about connecting with and helping other parents on their journey to raise awesome kids!