How to help your little worrywart
Sheila Stubbs’ son, Clayton, was four when they moved from town to a house in the country. “He was constantly following me around,” says Stubbs. “I was literally tripping over him. I tried to get him to go play outside, but he wouldn’t.” It took several weeks, but Clayton finally explained to his mother that he couldn’t go outside because he was worried about the tigers. Tigers? Yes, he had convinced himself that tigers were hiding in the woods.
They may not be fretting about tigers, but many preschoolers worry about scary things, from monsters under the bed to parents dying. Some, like Clayton, won’t tell you what they’re afraid of, but you’ll see their anxiety when they are reluctant to do ordinary things — like playing outdoors — or if they are especially clingy, or turn to comforts, such as thumb-sucking, more than other kids their age. If yours is one of these worrywarts, it’s natural to wonder if you’ve somehow caused him to be overly anxious — and if there’s something you can do to help him get over those fears.
“You have to remember that some anxiety is normal,” points out Suneeta Monga, a psychiatrist at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. “In preschoolers, there are plenty of normal fears — fear of monsters, fear of separation from mom or dad, fear of the dark — and they are not really a problem unless they persist for more than a few weeks, or if they are really interfering with the child’s life.”