Many children in kindergarten struggle with anxiety. It is important to provide help and support to these children so that the anxiety does not develop into a prolonged issue. Not all children grow out of their anxiety naturally. 

 


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Here you read tips on what kindergarten staff can do to help the anxious child.

The Norwegian website Barnehage.no (i.e, Kindergarten) writes this based on an interview with Kirsten Flaten, who has written a book specifically on childen with anxiety in the kindergarten. The text start with the following question: 

How do we react when we meet children with a behavior we do not understand? For example, children who is tense, which runs his/her way, or that constantly gets angry seemingly for no reason? Do kindergarten employees take such signs seriously, or do you think the child will grow this off?

To this Flaten elaborates that there are many children in kindergarten who struggle with anxiety. Barnehage.no writes:

There is more anxiety in kindergarten children than we know, and some do not grow from it. However, not everyone needs treatment, and often it's just a matter of facilitation, Flaten explains. She adds that some of this is normal developmental anxiety.

Normal developmental anxiety disappears naturally when the child grows older.

 

- The ironmask of shyness

A little anxiety is only good, but for some children the anxiety takes over and also creates a risk of prolonged anxiety problems. Kirsten Flaten refers especially to the quiet children. She refers to the phrase "the ironmask of shyness." In other words: the children often have little facial expressions and body language, but are full of emotions inside.

One of the biggest pitfalls of anxiety and embarrassment in children is that we need to read the emotional expressions of others to understand and control our own emotions. This has consequences for the child's social development, says Kirsten Flaten.

She also talks about children with social anxiety, who, among other things, may have great difficulty saying their name during the gathering.

For socially anxious children, it may be to say their name at the time of gathering. It's like climbing the Himalayas and they need help to cope. Because when you are 25 years old, you actually have to say your name and apply for jobs.

Then you have to endure the little bit of attention. Children who never get this attention disappear into the wall. They become invisible, says Flaten.

 

Signs of anxiety

The easiest way to spot the anxious children is to see when the children are trying to avoid something. They walk away, look down or get angry when they are pressured into something they dread.

But it is very important that the kindergarten recognizes them. If not, the worry can lead to a lot of awkwardness, writes barnehage.no.

Kirsten Flaten points out:

The anxious children need so many affirmations from you every day. Do I dare to join the other kids? Do the adults remember what I'm afraid of? Is there anything in that situastion that can trigger my anxiety?

These are examples of areas that the anxious child needs affirmations. If not this is achieved, the child may react strongly. She adds: 

- Some of the most angry children I have ever met are just anxious.

Another symptom of anxiety is stomach cramps and difficulty sleeping, says Flaten.

The child may get nauseous from going to kindergarten and think that the food is not good for her. Many children have been through all kinds of stomach examinations, without the doctors finding anything. For they are not sick, they are anxious.

 

Support and help

It is emphasized that it is important that employees in kindergartens provide a lot of help and support so that the anxious children can dare more. But it does not help to just make demands or push; children need to be safe and to take it in small steps.

However, anxiety can manifest itself in different ways in young children.

Children who speak little are often perceived as shy. But even children who talk a lot can have anxiety. When they talk their anxiety out, it is to alleviate the discomfort.

Anxious children will often feel the reactions on the body. They become nauseous, afraid of vomiting, their hearts beat and their knees tremble. They feel stressed and thoughts are drawn to anything that can go wrong.

The method is often to avoid everything that triggers anxiety, because it is in our nature. But when we do this, anxiety prevents us from living life to the fullest. So if you have a child in kindergarten who never says anything, you have to make a plan to make them try more, says Flaten.

 

- Security first

One of the pieces of advice that the special educator highlights is to give the children the experience of being seen. They need a lot of praise, but the praise should be toned down.

She also recommends the use of small groups, and to practice specifically on such small and simple skills as being able to say hello. It seems small, but is a large obstacle for the child. The article summarizes:

Along with mild pressure and the opportunity to make good, social experiences, let these kids be seen and recognized and know that it is perfectly okay to be fearful. They must learn to say their name and to say no, that I do not like this. Teach them eye contact and let them practice inviting others to play. Practice saying something nice about others and breathing far down your stomach.

The last point, learning to breathe with your stomach, is an important way to calm yourself - and therefore also well worth spending time in a kindergarten setting.

And finally, the kindergarten needs to talk to the parents about the anxious child. They need to ask themselves how they as a parent are involved in maintaining the child's anxiety.

An important point here is that adults find it easy to become very protective when the child feels anxious - but that there is a need to provide both protection and challenges on which the child can grow.

Nevertheless: she points out that the correct order in the follow-up of the child is: Security first!

 

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Written by

ove heradstveit

Ove Heradstveit

Psychologist, specialist in clinical community psychology. PhD.
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