New situations often have a lot of weird new elements! New place, new faces, new sights, smells, and experiences.Situational anxiety is very common in young children. Should you give up, or push forward? Try these fourteen creative and gentle strategies to help your child adjust with confidence.
Explore new situations – one slice at a time
Your child will feel more comfortable if you can help him dip a toe in and test out a new situation in a gradual way, at his own pace.
If it’s possible, separate the new situation into different parts. Explore different parts of the experience, one little piece at a time.
For example, if you are preparing your daughter to go to a new daycare:
- Sit together and look at pictures of the building, or browse the website
- Create a book featuring pictures of your child, pictures of the classroom and a description of typical day, and read it together
- Drive by the building and get a quick peek when it’s closed.
- Visit the building outside of business hours, but peek in the windows, and play in the playground
- Schedule a quick visit and meet the teacher only.
- Visit and see the classroom without kids in it.
- Next, visit and see the classroom full of kids!
A little at a time can be easier than everything all at once! If your child is ready to hop in, then you’re all good to go. But what if it’s all just too much?
Sensory needs and situational anxiety
If your child complains of overwhelming noise or seems more distressed in busy and bright settings, try these tips for keeping calm:
- Headphones can provide a buffer for noise
- Books or hand-held puzzles can help a child who needs to look away from the busy scene
- Fidget toys can create a focal point for children who might otherwise tend to grab, push or touch unexpected things
If your child has a history of crying, running away, refusing or hiding in new situations, then you might want to add one more step…
Plan your escape route (or at least, a side-track)
It’s a heartbreaking dilemma when your child is having difficulty adjusting to a new situation. It’s tempting to stay with them a little longer or hesitate for a while at the door, but sometimes the waiting just makes everyone feel more uneasy. You don’t want to take a step backwards, but you don’t want to force your child to go forward. Here’s a strategy that will keep you in the game:
Before you leave your home, talk to your child and brainstorm some ideas. Say “Let’s make a plan so you can feel comfortable.” Ask:
- What can you do if you feel worried?
- Want to bring your soft toy for extra snuggles?
- Want to make a secret password for when you need a break?
- Can you ask a teacher to let you sit outside for a minute?
If your child has been told that it’s okay to take a break and go at his own pace, he may be more likely to step into more challenging situations. She may be able to ask for a break or go at her own pace without resorting to running, refusing, crying or hiding.
These little steps can help build confidence and start new patterns. More practice and more little successes can add up to big jumps in confidence, and your child will learn to cope with the feelings that come with situational anxiety.
For more creative strategies to help your child grow and learn more independence: