Lisa Sheen is a psychologist and Resource Development Officer, KidsMatter at the Australian Psychological Society with a strong interest in the wellbeing of young children and families. Lisa has worked across a range of private, hospital and community settings over the last 10 years, including the Royal Children’s Hospital, Specialist Children’s Service under the then Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, and as a psychologist within private practice.
1. What are some of the signs of anxiety in infants and toddlers? What impact do they have?
Fearful and anxious behaviour is common in children, and in most cases it’s quite transient and short-lived, and children learn to cope.
Some children however experience anxiety more intensely and extra help might be needed. This is when they feel more anxious than other children their age and it stops them from participating in social activities or peer play, and disrupts their day-to-day routines.
Different anxieties can develop at different developmental stages. Babies and toddlers might fear loud noises, heights, strangers and separations. In this age group, you might notice fear and avoidance, sleep problems, stomach aches, and a strong need for reassurance. This has an impact on the whole family.
2. Can you talk about the role of psychologists in supporting infants, toddlers and their families with anxiety?
Across a range of settings, psychologists can play a critical role in assessing and intervening with infant and toddler anxiety.
With infants, psychologists will generally work collaboratively with families and in particular the primary care giver. A comprehensive assessment may include interviews with the family, early childhood educators and using standardised checklists to help establish the nature and extent of the anxiety, as well as risk and protective factors in place.
Psychologists then employ evidence-based treatments and interventions to support infants and toddlers in both their home and early childhood environments. This may include building up the skills of parents and educators to help support them in these environments, as well as working with parents directly when there is parent anxiety present.
One-on-one interventions with toddlers are developmentally appropriate, and may include play therapy to promote skills such as positive coping strategies and relaxation training.
Preventative initiatives such as KidsMatter can also be employed within the whole early childhood setting to help build resilience in all children and increase family involvement.
3. How do psychologists work collaboratively with other health and community professionals in supporting infants and toddlers with anxiety?
Psychologists can work collaboratively with a range of early childhood professionals and health and community professionals in supporting infants and toddlers with anxiety.
They may liaise with GPs, particularly if they are the initial referral source, as well as pediatricians who may be involved with the family.
If an infant or toddler is attending an early childhood setting, it is beneficial for the psychologist to work with educators and staff, along with the family, to come up with a plan and strategies to manage the anxiety. This is particularly important if the anxiety is mostly occurring within the early childhood setting (ie. separation anxiety).
Psychologists may also work with other health and community professionals such as the maternal and child health nurse, or an existing mental health professional working with the parents.
For more information
View a recording of the recent webinar featuring Lisa Sheen and other experts on supporting infants and toddlers with anxiety.