Some friends of ours have two toddlers, and one of them has anxiety pretty bad. Anxiety in toddlers is pretty common and it can range from normal everyday anxiety that will eventually go away to chronic anxiety that will last a lifetime. In toddlers, anxiety presents mostly as worry.

When Does Anxiety Present?
Anxiety can first develop at 7-8 months of age. At first, it’s mostly stranger anxiety that infants experience and this is when your infant becomes distraught when they’re left with people they don’t know well, or when people they don’t know well hold them. This type of anxiety eventually goes away with age and your child begins to recognize more people and knows that you’re going to eventually come back to them.

The second stage of anxiety happens around 12-18 months. This is typically separation anxiety and it develops when other people start babysitting your toddler. Again, this is pretty natural and will usually go away once your child starts to become familiar with being away from you for longer periods of time. However, separation anxiety can also come back once your child starts school.

Anxiety Disorders
Even young children can form anxiety disorders in addition to experiencing normal amounts of anxiety as they grow up. My friend’s child has GAD, or generalized anxiety disorder. This is when a person or child feels anxious and worried for no discernable reason and the feelings of anxiousness don’t seem to be attached to any one situation.

Usually, GAD and other disorders are the result of other problems, or can be made worse by other problems. Some typical problems can be:
•    Depression
•    School performance
•    ADHD
•    Substance abuse
Most of these will not be found in toddlers, with some exceptions. My friend’s children are adopted because they can’t have children of their own. Their children were born from the same parents, and the mother used meth during pregnancy. Their oldest child, the one with GAD, was exposed to larger amounts of meth than her younger sister. This substance abuse by the mother is what caused the GAD to develop and GAD in meth-affected children is very common.

What Can You Do for Your Child
For normal anxiety, the best thing you can do for your child is reassure her that nothing is wrong and that she’s going to be just fine. Don’t dismiss her fears though. For toddlers with anxiety, it’s best to have a consistent, but flexible schedule. Also, try to be mindful of your expectations. Encourage your child to try new things and do new things, but reassure her that perfection is not required. If your child is anxious about an upcoming event, make sure you talk with her the night before and go over some options about what to do and what to think so that she can ask for help and calm herself down.

Huberty, T. J. (n.d.). Anxiety and anxiety disorders in children: information for parents. The National Association of School Psychologists.