How do you know when a child has been too anxious for too long? TVO and the child mental health experts at the Hincks-Dellcrest Centre have pulled together the following lists of anxiety-related behaviours for ages 3-5 to help you decide when worry has become a problem.
Worried behaviours are divided into three categories below; Typical (not to worry), Monitor (reason to continue monitoring behaviours) and Seek Help (behaviours that may indicate a mental health problem). These are only some of the highlights from the ABCs of Mental Health on the Hincks-Dellcrest site. Click here to see the full lists of behaviours for a worried child in this age range and things you can do to help.
The following are considered normal and are not cause for concern. Click here for a full list of behaviours for your anxious child.
- A range of fears and anxieties as the child explores his world.
- Fears and worries changing as children grow older.
- Girls displaying more fears than boys, but boys hiding their fears better than girls.
- A child asking a lot of questions about ‘what if this or that happens.'
It can be hard to know when something is cause for concern. If your child is displaying the following worried behaviours, it could be a sign of a problem. It’s best to continue to monitor the situation and watch for any progression or worsening. Click here for a full list of behaviours for your anxious child.
- Sad mood.
- Tantrums, negativity, aggression, non-compliance and crying.
- Separation fears and clinging behaviour.
- Preoccupation and inattentiveness.
- Change in eating patterns.
- Loss of previous control of bladder or bowels.
- Change in sleep patterns.
- Delay in reaching developmental milestones, or regression to a previous level.
- Social isolation and withdrawal.
- Nose picking, thumb sucking, nail biting.
- Pulling on clothes.
- Picking at skin.
The following signs of worry in children aged 3-5 may be cause for serious concern, particularly if they interfere to a significant extent with the child’s functioning in school, social situations or normal family life. These signs may indicate the need to see a health practitioner for possible referral to a mental health professional. Click here for a full list of behaviours for your anxious child.
- Worried behaviours that last for a long period of time, over weeks or months.
- Significant change from previous mood or behaviour pattern without being able to regroup.
- Combination of behaviours, such as uncharacteristic sad mood, accompanied by angry and aggressive outbursts.
- Inability to contain worries at school, to learn and to socialize as expected.
- Worries so extreme that he does not accept your reassurance.
- Persistent talking about the same fear and refusing to stop. Even though talking about it at the time is inappropriate, they can’t put it aside, even for a few minutes. They express an urgent need for others to be involved in their fear.
- The child’s speech is pressured when talking about their fear and conveys a great deal of intensity and urgency.
- This obsession with the fear continues even though the child has encountered the object of the fear many times and each time nothing terrible has happened and you reassure her that she is safe.
- The above behaviours may be accompanied by a significant change in the family environment.
Need Help? What To Do:
- If the behaviour is having a significant impact on the child and/or his family, it’s time to see a doctor about getting help.
- Avoid blaming the child or becoming angry at the fearful behaviour.
- Focus on reinforcing the child when he is acting brave. Try to catch his attempts at bravery in order to reinforce it.
- Try to evaluate how much of a normal life is being sacrificed because of the fearful behaviour. This may also be affecting the lives of other family members.
- Document the behaviour with as much detail as you can.
- Ask your child what she thinks is at the root of her fears and allow her to express herself as much as possible.
- Send a clear message that fear is not a good reason to avoid doing an activity that everyone else is expected to do.
- Do not make exceptions for your child because of an irrational fear.
Find more recommendations for your worried child in the ABC's of Mental Health section of the Hincks-Dellcrest website.