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Parents' Corner

Helping Your Toddler Deal With Their Fears

Posted by David Smith on Wed, Nov 10, 2021 @ 06:00 PM

help-child-adjust-preschoolThe emotion of fear in toddlers can play a useful role in helping them to be cautious, especially in situations that are new or different. The presence of fear in toddlers can be a sign that their brains are developing as they should, able to alert them to danger.

Toddlers can be especially prone to feeling afraid because they have active imaginations. This can cause them to worry about unlikely disasters or purely make-believe monsters.

What scares children will change by age. Between the ages of 10 months and 2 years of age, many toddlers experience a type of fear called separation anxiety. They don’t want a parent to leave them, whether that’s at daycare or in their beds at night. To try to persuade the parent or other caregiver to stay, a toddler might cry and physically cling to the other person.

Some toddlers may have broad fears, such as of the dark, while other children become afraid of very specific things, from dogs to bugs to clowns — even the lawnmower or vacuum cleaner. Some young children will focus on the objects that alarm them and spend time drawing them, using clay to create them, talking about them often, and so forth. This can be a normal way to work through fear.

So, if you know that something scares your young child, what should you do? How should you help your toddler work through fears?

Ideally, you’ll figure out what’s wrong, meaning the specific source of the fear. The challenge is that toddlers usually don’t have the language skills needed to accurately describe why they’re afraid — but do your best to find out what makes them feel scared and why.

Whatever the answer is, don’t dismiss the fears or try to tease your toddler out of feeling anxious. That can make matters worse. So, rather than saying, “Oh, you’re fine. Don’t be afraid,” you could say, “I see that it’s scary for you when you’re around cats.” When you show your toddler that you understand their fear, this can provide some relief.

Don’t go too far in keeping the child away from the source of the fear — in our example, cats — because this may simply give the fear more time to grow.

Parents.com offers fear-specific advice about the 10 most common issues that frighten toddlers. Being afraid of the dark often arises from a child feeling unprotected and worrying because they can’t see what’s around them. To help, add a nightlight to your toddler’s room and teach them how to turn lights on. That can give them a sense of control. You can allow your toddler to have as much light as needed at bedtime and then gradually decrease it. You can also go for walks together in the dark to discuss what makes darkness so interesting — for example, your ability to see the bright moon and twinkling stars.

Anxiety over monsters, meanwhile, can indicate a fear of the unknown and how something harmful could be lurking nearby. Rather than saying that monsters aren’t real, a doctor tells Parents.com that it can help for parents to do a monster check with the toddler: in the closet, under the bed, and in the corners. You could also put up a sign saying that no monsters are allowed. This shows the child that you’re taking the situation seriously and helping them to address the source of their fear.

If fears persist, talk to your pediatrician for medical advice.

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Topics: Toddler Care

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