What methods have been successful at distracting a 4 year old from anxious or nervous behavior?
Our grandson is a very bright 4 year old in his second year of preschool (3 afternoons/week). He will most likely have another year of preschool since his birthday is late August, and while he meets all other suggested levels of development for Kindergarten, his fine motor skills are still developing. He takes longer to complete written tasks and doesn't enjoy coloring. Another year could easily improve his focus and skill level. What we're concerned about is his anxious behavior. He chews on his fingers and toes on occasion and twirls his hair. Both parents have family members with anxiety issues. The pediatrician has reccommended distracting him when he's anxious. The pediatric group also works with a social worker who may have some suggestions. We certainly don't want to medicate him at this age. We would appreciate any advice anyone has found successful in this circumstance.
Based upon your post, I can tell that you are a very caring and perceptive grandmother. Your grandson is lucky to have you in his life!
I interpret your grandson's behavior as self-soothing. Like many children his age (and much older!), when nervous or stressed, he relies on the hair twirling and nail chewing to calm himself. Depending upon who you ask, these behaviors, in and of themselves, are not particularly problematic, but it suggests he is struggling with some anxiety.
Given that he has a history of anxiety in his family, I think that it is worthwhile to teach him alternative strategies for calming himself. There are a number of soothing and relaxing exercises that you and his parents can do with him to help him settle himself. For instance, he might benefit from learning some relaxation techniques in which he visualizes a safe or relaxing place. An excellent book for young children that includes a number of visualization scripts for parents to read with their children is called "Starbright - Meditations for Children." When I have recommended this book to parents, they have told me their children enjoyed it very much. Parents typically read this with their child at bedtime. Progressive muscle relaxation is another technique. The following site has a very nice script appropriate for children: http://www.yourfamilyclinic.com/adhd/relax.htm
Finally, to read more on finger chewing and anxiety, in general, you should take a look at the following URLs:
Try to find out what is causing the anxiety. Is he fearful of something in particular? Very often become anxious when they are anticipating something unfamiliar or different. If that is the case with your grandson,, you may want to try reading him "Harry the Happy Caterpillar Grows: Helping Children Adjust to Change".The story centers on Harry,a caterpillar that has a fantastic life full of games, friends, school and leaf eating. He is stunned when, one day at caterpillar school, he learns that he is expected to build a chrysalis and become a butterfly. Harry vows to remain a caterpillar forever, as his friends build their chrysalises and move on. Eventually, Harry learns to accept change as a necessary part of life, and joins his friends as a butterfly. There are tips in the back of the book to help parents and educators use the story as a vehicle to help kids talk about their feelings about change, and teach them coping strategies to manage their anxiety.