Conversation Highlights: The Sunday Edition, June 2, 2019

Peaceful Parenting: Anxiety in Preschoolers

"Children may express stress differently according to their age, maturity level and previous experiences... In the pre-schooler age group, a child who expresses constant anxiety and fear of being alone is definitely showing signs of stress." - Dr. Markel

Dear Dr. Markel,

I would like to know about anxiety in preschoolers and to what extent that is typical and age appropriate. — My 3.5yo daughter is bright, creative, and fairly well adjusted but has what I consider to be a real anxiety problem. It doesn’t affect her every single day, but it definitely comes and goes in phases and when it is at it’s worst, it affects all the members of our family. When she was younger I worked, so she was used to being left with fantastic caregivers for almost three years. In February I lost my job and started staying home with her and her little brother, and the anxiety went from fairly typical separation anxiety to something more. She started being scared that I would leave her and not come back, even for example when I put her in her carseat and walked around to the other side of the car. She would become hysterical. This morning we were home together and I was doing normal household chores, every time I turned a corner or left the room she panicked and wanted to know where was. She is scared of doors being shut, of me going out into the yard for a second, even sometimes when she can still hear and see me. As I said, it is not everyday, but I feel there is something more going on than typical childhood fears. Can you tell me what’s age appropriate and if I should start looking for professional guidance for us?

— M.P. (Shelburne, Falls, MA)

Dear M.P.,

Children typically experience anxiety as they begin to understand some of the realities of the world, which to them may be disappointing and sometimes frightening. From your daughter’s point of view, the feeling of being afraid and out of control is probably a practical definition of anxiety. It is particularly common for children to experience this kind of anxiety between the ages of 2 and 6.

Young children may have short-lived fears such as fear of dark, storms or animals. Natural developmental fears during these years might include fear of being left alone – such as what your daughter is experiencing now – or fear of strangers. Life transitions are also stressful events for children, and the change from a daycare to a home situation is certainly that for your daughter.

Children may express stress differently according to their age, maturity level and previous experiences. Young children may react with certain symptoms and behaviors when the stability and security of their lives are violated. They may exhibit regressive behavior which is not to be confused with a child’s typical moment-to-moment inappropriate behavior. Regressive behavior is a cry for help from a child who is not feeling safe or who feels unable to cope with his or her situation.

In the pre-schooler age group, a child who expresses constant anxiety and fear of being alone is definitely showing signs of stress. It sounds as if she is in particular need of being cared for and protected. Children under stress need help in expressing their fears and concerns. Your daughter’s fears need to be address because they certainly are real to her. So my best suggestion is, yes, some therapeutic intervention would be helpful at this time.

— Dr. Susan Markel, MD


Dr. Susan Markel

Susan Markel, M.D. is a board-certified pediatrician who has a private consultative practice specializing in parent coaching and child health. A graduate of Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, Dr. Markel became a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics in 1981 and an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) in 1997. For many years she served as a medical liaison for La Leche League and is the author of What Your Pediatrician Doesn’t Know Can Hurt Your Child.

  • SUBMIT QUESTIONS: Do you have questions or concerns on how you as a parent and/or your children can achieve a healthier and happier lifestyle you would like to see Dr. Markel address? Submit your question for consideration HERE.

(Photo credit: (ccl) Wilson X)

Western MA Folk Remedies for Stress


“There must be quite a few things that a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know many of them. Whenever I’m sad I’m going to die, or so nervous I can’t sleep, or in love with somebody I won’t be seeing in a week, I slump down just so far and then I say: 'I’ll go take a hot bath.' I meditate in the bath. The water needs to be very hot, so hot that you can barely stand putting your foot in it. Then you lower your self inch by inch, till the water is up to your neck. - I remember the ceiling over every bath tub I’ve stretched out in. I remember the texture of the ceilings and the cracks and the colors and the damp spots and the light fixtures. I remember the tubs too, the antique griffin legged tubs and the modern coffin shaped tubs, and the fancy pink marble tubs overlooking the indoor lily pond and I remember the shapes and sizes of the water taps and the different sorts of soap holders . . . I never feel so much myself as when I am in a hot bath.” - Excerpt from The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

“Staying healthy to me means staying happy with myself. If I’m feeling sad, lonely or stressed (which can lead to lower immune functioning and dis-ease of all sorts) I call over a group of friends and we have a meal, play games, dance, laugh and/or create art together. I think this is the best household remedy of all! Life is full of dis-ease, if I keep myself at-ease within community and friends my mind stays happy and healthy a day at a time. Good health is not always curing the symptoms – to me it is rejuvenating my spirit.” – Ricki Carroll, New England Cheese Makers Supplies, Ashfield

“When I’m feeling down, blue, or all-around crappy, it’s usually because my own world feels too small. So anything I can do to break out of my own world perception is especially helpful. I definitely make plans with friends with whom I laugh a lot or I go see some sort of entertainment that is a far cry from my own life – an anatomically incorrect rock musical for example. Anything that helps me to see, understand, and embrace the infinite possibilities of this world. Of course, spending my day wandering around trying to get the babies of strangers to laugh or smile is also very satisfying as well.”– Kelsey Flynn, Available for lunch, Northampton

“A tincture with St. Johnswort, Lemon Balm and Motherwort (along with self-heal and mullein flower essences) has been really helpful for a couple of friends. One was suffering from panic attacks and my other friend was feeling very depressed.” – Cathy Whitely

“Hot milk and honey and put your worries in a sack under your bed. They will be there in the morning.” – Eileen Latshang

“Maude knew. . . . “It’s oat straw tea. You’ve never had oat straw tea, have you?” “No.” “Well then.” She smiled and picked up the kettle. Do you remember this scene from the 1971 movie Harold and Maude written by Colin Higgins? –  Oats (Avena sativa) are in fact one of the best remedies for ‘feeding’ the nervous system, especially when under stress. They’re a specific treatment for nervous debility and exhaustion, particularly when associated with depression. Oats act quite slowly but can be of real long-term benefit in any weakness of the nervous system. Oats are one of the classic plants which form a bridge between food and medicine (see oatmeal recipe under winter blues). Whenever I am feeling frazzled, rushed, overworked and that there is not enough time in the day, I brew myself a pot of oatstraw tea.” – Tony(a) Lemos, Ashfield

“I use passion flower and valerian tincture for anxiety and sleeplessness.” – Becky Loveland, Northampton

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