Imagine feeling overwhelmed at the thought of being in a room filled with strangers, or being in an unexpected and uncomfortable situation. Can you calm yourself down? Keeping the familiar waves of anxiety, fear, or social discomfort at bay may actually stem from a critical step in early child development. “These feelings are directly linked to one of the most crucial issues in healthy child development,” says Dr. Vicki Panaccione, Ph.D., founder of the Better Parenting Institute and a child-clinical psychologist with 25 years of private-practice experience working with children and families. There are times in every child’s life when he or she faces difficult challenges and encounters unpleasant situations. Similar to the anxiety and fear experienced by adults, children face scenarios such as starting a new school year, making a new friend, or reading aloud in class. Although every child will confront these common scenarios, not all know how to address and cope with them. “Mental health professionals are seeing more and more anxious children than ever before,” says Panaccione, “And the key issue is the lack of ability to self-calm.” In addition to social anxiety, low self-esteem and self-confidence, even depression is being linked back to the first few weeks and months of life. Commonly thought of as a vital factor in sleeping through the night, the learned skill of self-soothing is a tool that experts agree children need to thrive throughout their life.
Fussy beginnings “As babies [children with poor anxiety management] were always held, soothed, rocked and not allowed to cry or even fuss,” says Panaccione, “As preschoolers, these are the kids who aren’t sleeping through the night or are still sleeping in their parents’ bed, acting overly clingy, having separation issues, and exhibiting general anxiety. “And they grow up to be children and teens who lack confidence because they have not learned to handle situations on their own. Their whole life has been one of being protected.” These children have not physiologically developed the mechanism to calm themselves and grow up believing, “I [always] need someone to take care of me and calm me down; I can’t do it for myself.”
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Click here to read on about soothing tips, how crying within reason is a valuable learning tool and the benefits of having baby take a time-out.