Need to talk? Call 1800 882 436.
It's a free call with a maternal child health nurse. *call charges may apply from your mobile

Is it an emergency? Dial 000
If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately.

beginning of content

Parental anxiety in the toddler years

5-minute read

Raising a child aged 1 to 3 can be challenging. It's normal to feel anxious about your toddler and your parenting style. But if you have severe anxiety that doesn't go away, it can affect your child and may prevent you from being the parent you'd like to be. Knowing what to expect from the toddler years and seeking support can help.

What happens during the toddler stage?

Toddlers haven't yet developed the social and emotional skills needed to control their behaviour.

Toddlers can be defiant, emotional or fussy (particularly when it comes to eating). Temper tantrums and outbursts of anger are common at this age.

Your child might do things you don't like, such as biting or hitting. They may find it hard to be separated from you or ‘act up’ to get your attention. Toddlers can be easily distracted and may find it hard to follow instructions.

But toddlers develop fast. They learn to talk, think and play. They may run around all over the place, fall over and explore everything. They are also learning to do things independently, like going to the toilet and dressing themselves, although they may still have trouble sleeping or may wet the bed.

What are common anxieties and fears?

It's normal to worry when you’re a parent. You might be concerned your toddler isn’t developing like other children or worry at times that they are sick. You might get anxious about how they handle social situations with friends or family or that they will behave badly in public.

Some parents become anxious that the world is a dangerous place for their child. They feel they must protect their toddler from being hurt or abducted and get very anxious when their child explores or takes risks.

Some parents become anxious about their children's success and will intervene to prevent them from failing.

It's normal to have these anxieties from time to time. But if they are becoming a problem for you, you should consider seeking help.

Why is it important to deal with anxiety?

Constant worrying can take over and get in the way of your parenting. Very anxious parents find it hard to get through the day. They might have trouble connecting emotionally with their child.

There is some evidence that parents with social anxiety are more likely to engage in behaviours that put their children at risk of anxiety, as well.

If you're always showing your child you're worried, they may learn to be worried about some situations too. Children learn from taking risks and making mistakes.

Anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Australia. You may have had anxiety before you became a parent, or you may have developed the condition during or after pregnancy. Anxiety often comes and goes, but if you experience these symptoms a lot and they don't go away, seek help if you:

  • can't stop worrying
  • feel restless
  • have trouble relaxing or sleeping
  • find it hard to concentrate
  • are getting very frustrated or irritable
  • feel your heart racing often

How can I manage my anxiety?

When you're feeling anxious or overwhelmed, leave your toddler safely in a room for a few minutes and concentrate on slowing down your breathing. You could gently tense and relax your muscles one by one.

Stay in the present moment and focus on the actual problem. For example, if your child is sick, focus on how to make them more comfortable and don't worry about other tasks, such as housework or emails. Try not to stress about what could happen in the future.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, break things down into small tasks or steps. Use positive self-talk, for instance saying “I can handle this” to yourself.

It can help if you ‘make an appointment’ with yourself to worry about certain things later. By then, they might not seem so bad or important.

If you are often anxious, relaxation techniques and mindfulness training can help. You could keep a diary and identify scenarios that make you particularly anxious. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle with good nutrition and lots of exercise can also reduce anxiety.

Resources and support

Talk to your doctor. They may refer you to another health professional for counselling. Sometimes medication can help.

Talk things over with a family member or a friend.

Support from other parents can help with anxiety, so consider joining a parents’ group or playgroup. Contact the Child Health Centre in your area for more information.

You can also contact:

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: February 2022


Back To Top

Need more information?

Anxiety & how to deal with it: parents | Raising Children Network

It’s important to deal with anxiety if it interferes with health, daily life or relationships. Relaxation techniques can help, as can professional support.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Toddler Tantrum Tips | Tresillian

Learn more about toddler behaviour and how to deal with toddler tantrums, toilet training, fussy eaters and how you can ultimately promote positive behaviours.

Read more on Tresillian website

Understanding Toddler Behaviour & Tantrums | Tresillian

Learn more about toddler behaviour and how to deal with toddler tantrums, toilet training, fussy eaters and how you can ultimately promote positive behaviours.

Read more on Tresillian website

Common worries and fears for parents

New parents often worry that they don't know what to do. However, there are practical ways to deal with the challenges so you can enjoy your baby more.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Preparing for baby’s arrival: Tips for new dads | PANDA

The lead up to the arrival of a new baby can be an exciting time for expecting dads. But it can also bring challenges as you adjust to the new future.

Read more on Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia (PANDA) website

Parenting during COVID-19 - Triple P Positive Parenting Australia

Read more on Triple P - Positive Parenting Program website

Covid-19 fact sheet: re-integrating as restrictions lift

With restrictions slowly lifting and life slowly returning to some kind of normal, we are once again met with uncertainty and more social change

Read more on Gidget Foundation Australia website

Children and biting

Biting is very common in toddlers. Understanding why children bite, and how to respond, can help parents deal with this challenging behaviour.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Starting preschool: practical tips to help | Raising Children Network

When your child is starting preschool, it’s normal for you and your child to feel excited – and a bit anxious! Get practical tips to ease the transition.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Anxiety in children and childhood fears | Raising Children Network

Anxiety in children is a normal part of development. Childhood anxieties and fears include separation anxiety, fear of the dark and worries about school.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

Need further advice or guidance from our maternal child health nurses?

This information is for your general information and use only and is not intended to be used as medical advice and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any medical condition, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes.

The information is not a substitute for independent professional advice and should not be used as an alternative to professional health care. If you have a particular medical problem, please consult a healthcare professional.

Except as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, this publication or any part of it may not be reproduced, altered, adapted, stored and/or distributed in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of Healthdirect Australia.