how to spot signs of stress in your toddler

Keep Calm and Carry On

“It’s important to stay calm and acknowledge your child’s feelings,” Pantley says. “But don’t go overboard. You want to convey that you understand your child’s feelings, but that nothing bad will happen when you are apart. Your child can learn that he doesn’t have to be immobilized by stress or fear.” Dr. Hackney suggests a tactic she describes as “matter-of-fact empathy,” where the message is conveyed through words, body language, and tone of voice that you understand how your child feels but you’re not changing course. If a child doesn’t want to go to day care, say, ‘I know, this is really hard. I know you really don’t want to go, you’re having fun at home,’ but continue your usual routine and then head out the door as planned. This way, “all of your language is basically saying ‘I completely understand, but we’re still going,’” Dr. Hackney says.

Stick to the Schedule

Maintain daily routines such as going to day care or preschool, feeding, and preparing for bedtime. Routines allow toddlers to feel in control over what to expect, and “go a long way in creating a sense of calm,” Dr. Hackney says. Keeping a consistent bedtime is particularly important because children can become stressed more easily if they are overtired. “To help your child cope with the stressors of life, make certain that she is getting a good night’s sleep, adequate naptime, healthy meals, and plenty of daily activity,” Pantley says. It’s best to postpone other changes – such as potty training or transitioning to a big-kid bed – that can disrupt the normal schedule. Wait until life has settled into a comfortable pattern, Pantley advises.

Allot Time for Breaks

Build in adequate time for rest breaks, naps, and preparation for activities. “Children live according to a much slower clock than adults do,” Pantley explains. "They don’t give a thought to what they might be doing next. They pause as they watch the cat sleep, examine the color patterns in the carpet, and ponder the reasons for having toes. So examine your schedule to make sure you’re focusing on priorities and taking time to enjoy your child’s company. Make sure that you’re not taking away any special moments by rushing to the next item on the schedule.