It is normal for toddlers to be fearful of things. After all, anxiety happens to be a rather natural condition that assists us in protecting us from danger and coping with new experiences. At times toddlers become afraid of specific things like loud noises, the dark, bugs and even dogs. Then there are those who are scared of new situations and dread meeting new people. However, the one thing you can be assured of is that your toddler’s fears are going to fade away with time as he starts feeling more secure in his environment.
The thing with children’s reactions and worries to certain situations is that they tend to vary rather significantly. But the one thing for sure is that a majority of kids around the world become fearful from time to time, thereby leaving their parents rather anxious about their fears. The good news is that there are several steps that you can take in order to help your child overcome his fears and acquire the confidence needed to face up to the harder things in life – things that they will face in times to come. Here’s a list of the top 7 toddler fears and how you can help your child overcome them:
7 Fear of monsters
Nighttime can be rather scary for children, and they end up imagining things lurking under their bed, waiting to hurt them. During the time when your child’s vivid imagination is developing, he may end up having nightmares too. Preschoolers in particular tend to distort reality during sleep, thereby morphing funny cartoon characters into monsters during their dreams.
However, there is no reason at all for you to start blaming yourself for your child’s fears and anxiety. Also, her bad dreams don’t really reflect underlying psychological or emotional problems. This means that you shouldn’t worry about taking your kid to a monster-exterminating child psychologist. Instead, there are things you can do on your own to help you child do away with her fears of monsters. Although we are well-aware of the fact that there’s no such thing as monsters, children tend to think otherwise. With their vivid imaginations, they tend to conjure up monsters in clouds, shadows and even dark corners. The best means of doing away with your child’s fears is to take her concerns seriously and assist her in preventing monster visits.
How do I do that?
To begin with, get him along with you and check under the bed. Once done, check the closet and in all the corners your child thinks the monster is hiding. Now fill a spray bottle with water and spray a little in the room – tell your child it’s a ritual that will keep all the monsters away from his room. Also, get a ‘No Monsters Allowed’ sign and hand it on his door for good measure.
6 Fear of dogs
Kids have different personalities. While some read, others rough-house, some fear new and challenging things while the others love taking off an adventures. Children who are fearful of trying new things have a low threshold for feeling distress, and their fear of the unknown and unexpected that makes them fear dogs. What makes things worst is the little exposure to a dog(s) and their parents not talking to them about animals. In other cases, the reason behind a child’s fear of dogs is much clearer. Most parents go so far as teaching their kids that dogs are scary and very dangerous. It is for this reason that their kids start fearing dogs.
What parents don’t realize is that the problem may be getting magnified because dogs can equally be afraid of their children. Many children freak dogs out – they do all sorts of things that are impolite to dogs. From flailing their arms to screaming, yelling and staying at eye level, they typically have erratic behavior.
So what can I do to get my kids and my dogs get along?
There are plenty of things that you can do to help your fearful child and your dogs meet in the middle. To begin with, you need to put yourself in their shoes – your kids’ that is. Animals are things they have no understanding of, which is what worries them. If you have a larger dog, then your children are definitely going to be pretty small compared to him, which leaves no room for you to wonder why they are scared of it. Also, when praising or defining your dog to your child, you should refrain from using emotive language. For example, say “What a nice dog” instead of “What a big dog”. Using neutral words is going to help your child associate ‘good’ words with your dog instead of words like big or scary.
5 Fear of strangers
Ever wondered what’s on your child’s mind when she meets a stranger? Let me tell you, she’s thinking, “I have no idea who this is or what s/he wants from me, so I am just going to stick close to mom”. That’s right – your child doesn’t know who she is being asked or forced to meet and thus will be scared. If anything, this particular fear is rather healthy and protective, because children should NOT be comfortable in going to people they don’t know.
However, this fear gets a bit on the nerves when your child starts fearing friends and relatives she doesn’t get to see on a regular basis. In cases like these, it is necessary for you to take action and do away with your child’s fear somehow. The thing with kids is that they tend to form close bonds of trust and love with people like their parents or their main caregiver – things are completely different when it comes to strangers. Your child is particularly going to be afraid of people she has had little contact with, and this fear is completely natural.
The way out
To begin with, it is extremely important for you to give your child enough time to interact with a ‘new’ person and become friendly to them. Whenever she’s in a stranger’s company, make sure that you are there by her side. If your child is naturally shy, warn visitors about it beforehand and let them bond with your child over her favorite games and activities. But no matter what you do, you must never force your child to go to a stranger.
4 Fear of being alone
Your child may have a fear of being alone. She may want you to be by her side at all times, because it makes her feel safe. If she has this particular fear, she is not going to like you being out of her sight. To help her out, start with making a game of being alone so she can start adjusting to things. Just take turns being alone – first you stay alone in her room for a while, and then make her do the same. If sitting alone in a room is a bit much for your child, just sit away from her in a different part of the room. Once she accomplishes this, try being in separate rooms, but make sure that she can still hear you. Do this to the point that she finally becomes comfortable with sitting in separate rooms without getting upset.
The basic idea here is that it is necessary for a child to face hear fears. Anxiety is only going to feed on itself and will eventually create a vicious cycle. Your child is going to remain completely enslaved by her fear till the time that you encourage her to bite the bullet. This is not going to be easy at all for you, but you need to bear in mind the fact that it is the only means of breaking the negative pattern that your child has built around herself.
When your child finally gets over her fear, or at least starts sitting alone for a while, it is highly recommended for you to make a ‘big deal’ out of this transition. The best thing for you to do in this regard is to turn it into an occasion for celebration – get her a cake or let her watch her favorite cartoons for a little extra time!
3 Fear of masks, mascots and costumes
When your child sees things like mascots, she doesn’t really understand what they are, and has no idea who, if anyone, is behind the mask – this is what scares her. You need to bear in mind the fact that kids have vivid imaginations, which makes it hard for them to determine what’s real and what’s not. Although you may find it fun to take a picture of your kid with the team mascot, you should know that an oversized rabbit, tiger or dinosaur can appear rather frightening to her considering the novelty and disproportion. For this reason, if your child is afraid of someone/something, it is best for you to refrain from forcing her to interact with them.
If there are people in costumes around your child, it is highly recommended for you to request them to take off their masks for a bit so your child can register that it is just another normal human being. In order to help your child adjust to the idea of people in oversized costumes, you should play a game of ‘dress up’ with her. Remember, the fear of costumes, masks and mascots happens to be one of the most intense fears faced by kids. It is severe to the point that it can trigger screams and bring children to a state of panic as well.
How else can I help my child?
If your child is overly terrified of masks, costumes and mascots, then you should introduce the concept to her through pictures at first. Get people in your family to dress up with masks on, off and partially removed and show them to your child. Also get books from the library with pictures or get a few pictures off the internet and show them to her.
2 Fear of doctors and dentists
When you take your child to the doctor, the one thing on her mind is that she doesn’t like the doctor because he gives her the shots, takes her blood and all that hurts her. Most children hate having to go to the doctor, but some of them are outright petrified. This honestly shouldn’t come as a surprise to you considering that children don’t typically like being handled by unfamiliar people, let alone people who they know may give them a shot.
If your child is scared of the doctor, there is a good chance that she may completely freeze or go into shock mode when you enter the waiting room. This is most probably because your child associated the location with pain. For this reason, it is best for you to prepare your child in advance for the sort of procedures you expect her to experience there. To make things easier, make sure that you offer her a reward for her cooperation with the doctor and any medical procedures that may take place.
Is there something else that I can do?
Of course. As you wait in the waiting room, read or sing (in a whisper) with your kid so as to reduce her anxiety. Apart from that, make sure that you stay with her during procedures and once everything is done with, don’t forget to congratulate her for being such a brave girl. Also, when visiting the doctor, you need to keep a check on your own nervousness too. If your child senses your nervousness, she is just going to become all the more fearful.
1 Fear of bad dreams
Oh yes, children have a fear of bad dreams too. Because of this particular fear, your child may be afraid to sleep alone, because she associates sleep with nightmares. Bad dreams basically symbolize the struggles children have with differentiating between reality and pretend. The worst part is that your child may not even be able to verbalize the fact that she had a bad dream. However, she will definitely show her distress to you through strange behaviors including:
- Telling stories about things she saw
- Telling you that she does not want to go to sleep because she’s afraid
- Frequent waking
- Screaming and/or crying at night
In such a case, you should comfort your child after a nightmare with a favorite stuffed animal or blanket. Also, you need to reassure her that she is safe in her bed and that you will always be there to protect her. However, if her nightmares are very persistent or intense, then it is best for you to speak to her doctor about it.
A few other tips
Apart from the basics, you should also teach your child coping skills and talk to her about alternative ways to respond to hear fear. Encourage her to have positive thoughts, particularly when going to bed. Also, make being in the dark fun for her. For this, try to play flashlight tag with her and see how things go. Lastly, give your child a ‘security object’ that she can keep in bed with herself. This is definitely going to help her feel safer and more relaxed at bedtime and all through the night.