My daughter has become very anxious and is scared that we are going to leave her. What can I do?

My daughter is five years old. Back in June, she started experiencing bouts of anxiety. Ever since she was younger, she has always been afraid of people in costumes. For instance, we were at a kid’s birthday party and a parent was dressed as Elmo. She clung to me with a death grip, screamed and cried and didn’t want to see him at all.
Around 3 months ago, she started being fearful of my husband or I leaving her in a room by herself. She says that she is afraid that we are going to leave her. When I talk to her about this, I ask her if we have ever left her before and she says, “No.” I asked her if her friend at daycare has ever been left before and she says, “No.” I asked her why she thinks this and she says, “I don’t know.” Even if I go into the basement to do some laundry and my husband isn’t home, she cries terribly and insists on coming down with me. If I or my husband are not in her sight, she has almost a complete meltdown. It can be extremely frustrating. I try as much as I can to be sympathetic and try to get to the root of the problem.
Back in March we moved into a new home. She has a little sister, but she is 17 months old now. My husband recently took on a second job in July. I’m just not sure what could have started this anxiety in June though. I have discussed this with her pediatrician, and she seems to think that this is all normal, but said that if it starts branching out into other anxieties in other areas of her life, that we might consider a therapist.
It breaks my heart to see her this way. I did have some anxiety in my 20s, but don’t know if I have it in my family history due to limited information because I am adopted. I would just like some advice and guidance as to how to handle this situation. Thank you for your time!

Anxiety is the most common mental health problem that children, adolescents and adults have. So getting it under control is important.

People with anxiety are really good at detecting danger. In fact they detect danger where there is no danger. Your daughter seems to be extremely good at detecting danger.

Anxiety often increases because of what we do to help our kids. If we respond to distress with reassurance and taking the child out of the anxious situation, the anxiety will get worse. However, not responding to a child in distress is extremely difficult.  The only effective way for any of us to overcome our fears is to face them.

Several strategies can be helpful.

  1. Talk with your daughter about how she feels when she is anxious. Tell her you will help her by teaching her to be brave. Ask her for ideas on what she can do so she doesn’t get so upset.
  2. Teach her some simple skills:
  3. a.  Slow breathing.
    b. Saying to herself “Be calm.” “Everything is all right.” “Mom is just in the basement doing laundry.”

  4. Have practice sessions.
  5. a. Prompt her to breathe slowly and her talking to herself. You go downstairs for 30 seconds. Come back and praise her for being brave.
    b. Repeat it again and again, gradually making your time in the basement longer and longer.
    c. Use  different situations. Again, start easy and gradually make it more challenging.
    d. The more often you practice the better it will be

  6. The idea is to have her succeed. So go slowly enough for her to do it.
  7. Be firm but loving. Don’t bargain, don’t give in.
  8. Reduce your attention and reassurance when she has a meltdown. Give her just the minimum amount of attention.
  9. Don’t trick her by sneaking out. Be honest and straightforward.

You might also reflect on how  you overcame your anxiety.  The same methods may be helpful for your daughter.

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3 Responses to My daughter has become very anxious and is scared that we are going to leave her. What can I do?

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