Anxiety and Learning
A little worry helps your toddler learn big lessons.
Worries can be powerful partners in helping your toddler think about the world, as long as they don't swell to flood stage and wash away his coping strategies. If they are kept to a manageable size, they can be effective catalysts to the mastery of learning and thinking.
Children need to learn to manage negative emotions, and to do that, they need to experience them from time to time at manageable levels. The anxiety-free child is a fantasy. Anxiety is an important warning signal for potential danger. Mastering both the anxiety and the thing or event that provoked it is a powerful learning experience.
Humor and light-hearted joking around are powerful allies in managing anxiety, and toddlers especially delight in their growing capacity to make use of them. They experiment with practical jokes that play on their own vulnerabilities, like drooling food, falling down, or putting clothes on backwards. The raucous laughter they exhibit — and elicit from nearby grownups — through their clowning is not simply entertainment. These toddlers are exploring new strategies for controlling the world of emotion around them.
What You Do Matters
An attuned and thoughtful caregiver can make a novel experience, like approaching the ocean's edge, an interesting adventure, full of wonder and manageable excitement.
At the same time, if you're terrified of water — and cannot conceal or manage that fear — that dip in the ocean might feel like a frightening encounter to your toddler. It becomes either a delightful experience at the beach or a situation threatening to careen out of control. Your emotion can sway the event in either direction. No single force matters more in your child's management of tension than your emotionally attuned presence.