Parenting Help for Handling Toddlers’ Fears

Does your toddler scream whenever you attempt to put water on her head at bath time? Does he hide behind you when he sees the neighbour’s dog? Does she throw a temper tantrum when she is in a dark room?

children fear and phobia

Children’s phobias change from day to day; these childhood fears come from many different places, another child, imagination, television, books, and even siblings. These fears may seem funny to you, as an adult and parent. They may seem illogical. Regardless of where a child’s fear comes from, how funny it appears, or how unrealistic it is, remember – it is real to them.

Children cannot explain their fears nor do they attempt to hide them. Because of this lack of control and emotional immaturity, it appears as if children are scared of everything, or have an abnormal number of fears. They do not; their fears are normal, all children are fearless yet fear everything.

What is a Phobia?

A phobia is the extreme fear of something, to be afraid. Being afraid is a natural developmental phase that all children experience. Luckily, this developmental phase does not last forever.

As babies – first become aware of their surroundings, they can begin to feel fear. This usually happens around 7 – 8 months of age. Although they are not even sure what they are feeling at this point in their life.

Fears are turned into phobias when a child hits toddlerhood. This is the developmental stage where children become imaginative and are capable of pretend play. Their imaginations make these phobias very real to them.

What can Cause a Phobia?

Phobias can be caused from many different venues. Some of the most common are toddlers own experiences, their parents, or television programs.

  • TODDLER EXPERIENCE: If a toddler falls down the stairs, and gets hurt, there is a natural reaction to become scared of the stairs. Over time, this could turn into a phobia – just from one experience. (This is a small example, but an example nonetheless.)
  • PASSED DOWN FROM PARENTS: Let’s say a mother is afraid of spiders, and dramatically acts this fear out. As a child gets older and witnesses this action (screaming, etc), and understand where the reaction is coming from (spider), they begin to think that they should be afraid of spiders too. After all, “Mommy is so I should be”.
  • TELEVISION PROGRAM: Say there is a show that has a small clip with the “boogey man” in it. In this clip, the children in the television program are scared of the “boogey man” and noticeably act this out. This experience could teach your child to become scared of the “boogey man”, which could very easily turn into a phobia.

Common Phobias (Fears)

Common phobias include the fear of animals, people, water, loud noises, monsters, and the dark. Below are some tricks, or techniques, as to how to help ease your toddlers’ anxiety of these fears.

Phobias Fears Monsters - photo by Ale Paiva

Fear of Canines (animals)

This fear is common as many animals are larger than toddlers are and they can move quickly – quicker than the child can. If your child experiences this fear, be patient with him and give him reassurance. Help by exposing him to animals more often; maybe bring them to parks, a pet store, the zoo, or even a farm.

A zoo is the perfect atmosphere for this type of fear. Encourage your child to feed the animals – this helps them learn how to interact with them. Encourage her with verbal and physical rewards like stickers and praise. You can also encourage your child through reading loving storybooks – about animals. Try to focus on animals that are specific to your child’s fear.

Remember to be gentle – always – with your approach and they will eventually gain confidence.

Water Fears

Water fears are common especially if a toddler experienced something bad like soap getting into their eyes. Whether this experience was accidental or not, that child will form a phobia of soap and water near their face. This is a very logical fear as soap burns your eyes.

Encourage your child that you will be very careful with them, and prove this with gentleness while keeping water away from their face. Allow her to play during bath time, teaching her that water is fun.

Buy tear-free shampoo and make a big deal out of it. Make a game out of washing her hair – pretend that the water coming out of the faucet is rainwater from a gutter. Teach her to tilt her head upwards to avoid water dripping into her face.

Fear of Loud Noises

Examples of loud noise fears are the fear of a running vacuum cleaner and a thunderstorm. These noises can hurt a child’s ear as they hear in a much higher pitch than adults do.

Vacuuming can be turned into a game. Get your toddler their own toy vacuum cleaner and allow them to “help” you vacuum the house. Let her listen to music while you vacuum to distract her from the noise. Alternatively, you could even wait to vacuum until someone can help with your child or they can take your child outside of the house for a bit.

Thunderstorms are a different story. There is really only one way to ease your child’s anxiety through these storms – hold them and encourage her until the storm is over. Explain where the sounds are coming from, why they sound so loud, why it needs to rain, and eventually the logic will sink in.

Fear of Monster

I’m not sure there has ever been a child who was not afraid of monsters at one point in their life. Even though you know monsters do not exist, DO NOT dismiss your toddler’s fear. It is real to them! Encourage your child to tell monster stories, read monster stories to them. Create these stories in a way that you can end them in a comical manner. She will begin to learn to laugh at monsters rather than fear them.

Fear of the Dark

The fear of the dark is another very common fear in toddlers. There are many causes to this fear including nightmares.

fear of dark children

Cuddle with your child around bedtime and entering the dark. Encourage her that there is nothing there and that lights can always be turned on. Encourage him to talk about his dreams / nightmares. Turn the scary ones around by taking the scary parts out of them. Read a story or sing a song to help them relax before bedtime.

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Do your children have phobias (fears) of their own? What good parenting help or advice will you give to our fellow mothers to help their toddler overcome their fears? Give us your comments.

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