Toddler Induced Anxiety: Is This A Thing?
If you have a toddler, you may already be nodding your head in agreement just from reading the title of this article. The toddler in my house (I have two) that gives me an abundance of anxiety is my son, Krish. He’s three… with attitude and a list of demands. These demands start the minute he kicks me awake until the moment he goes to bed and sometimes in the middle of the night. The imminent tantrums and demands keep my anxiety on edge and has actually begun to disrupt my sleep cycle due to restlessness.
Disclaimer: We sleep trained my son and he slept like an angel until recently. Toddlers running into your bed at night, even sleep trained ones who never co-slept, because they are scared seems to be normal in my momma circle so I know I’m not alone in this.
What is anxiety? Most people experience some form of anxiety in their lifetime and for some, like myself, it’s a disorder that needs to be consistently managed and can lead to depression at times. Toddler Induced Anxiety** isn’t a label you’ll find on the Mayo Clinic website because I made it up, but it falls into situational anxiety. According to rtor.org, “Situational anxiety is a specific type of anxiety that occurs during unfamiliar situations or events that make us so nervous that we lose control of our ability to stay calm.”
Knowing that Krish is going to kick me awake and demand milk at the top of his lungs, loud enough to wake his little sister who’s still sleeping like a bear in hibernation, makes my stomach come up to my throat and my heart race until I’m sweating at 1:13 AM unable to sleep. Then my mind will remind me that I only have 5 hours to sleep in order to be able to manage a 2 & 3 year old tomorrow without losing my sh*t. I also get the same nervousness when I hand him his milk bottle because he’s particular about every bit of this morning milk experience. He has to have at the 7oz line, warmed for 30 seconds with his Goofy near him. There’s a fear inside of me that if I mess it up, I’ll get an inconsolable morning tantrum to kick off the day.
My in-house Pediatric Psychiatrist, Dr. Vijay Chand, aka my husband, has told me not to give in to all his particular ways because we don’t want to enable that behavior so aside from the morning milk, I try my best to do things “my way” and not let him take control of every meal, activity and moment of my day.
So now you’re sitting there nodding to a point where your neck is about to break and are like, “So what do we do?” Here are some ways I’ve been able to ease my toddler induced anxiety with the guidance of my husband’s expertise.
Yes, I want you to set boundaries from your own child. To alleviate our sleeping in my bed situation, I have set up a comfy floor cot in the corner of my room. We let Krish know that if he wants to come into our room, then he will have to sleep on the cot. This will allow me to sleep without half a butt cheek hanging off the side of my bed and a toddler hand continuously smacking me in the face.
Normally, I like to wake up before my kids to start my day off with peace, even if it’s just 5 minutes, but when he’s in the same room as me, I have the fear of waking him up. So in this case, I recommend you prepare breakfast and morning activities the night before. For me this means making sure his milk cup (yes he has a specific one) is washed and ready to go. Preparation also extends to having things ready for toddlers to do while you get ready or jump on a meeting, in my case. If we leave them to their own devices when we are busy with something as simple as using the bathroom, our anxiety of impending messes and destruction rises.
Toddlers love routine. I notice that the days we lack a routine tend to be the hardest days with them and that’s when my anxiety peaks. Our normal routine is breakfast then YouTube circle time followed by an activity and play time. As winter approaches and we can no longer be outside, I have to get creative with ways to keep them occupied indoors with coloring, play dough, and dance parties.
This goes towards your toddler(s) as well as yourself. Praise them for doing good things with high fives and hugs. Get them excited when they act in a way you like so they are encouraged to continue that behavior. You need to also praise yourself as a parent for doing the best you can. Give yourself grace, lower your expectations and try to speak words of affirmation to yourself at the beginning and end of each day. This job is hard, you guys. We’re all doing the best we can.
All in all, what you’re feeling is very real and very normal. The anxiety of what could be with our toddlers as well as the anxiety from daily life with a toddler is common amongst a lot of parents, but managing it with these simple steps can help ease anxiety and restlessness.
Let’s keep taking it one day at a time, giving ourselves grace and showing up as our best selves day in and day out.
If you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression, please seek medical attention.
Common anxiety signs and symptoms include:*
• Feeling nervous, restless or tense
• Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom
• Having an increased heart rate
• Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)
• Feeling weak or tired
• Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry
• Having trouble sleeping
• Experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) problems
• Having difficulty controlling worry
• Having the urge to avoid things that trigger anxiety
* https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases conditions/anxiety/symptoms-causes/syc-20350961
**I am not a medical professional and this is a term based on my experience.