Experiencing fears is a normal part of development. “Being afraid sometimes is a normal, healthy part of growing up" explains licensed social therapist Elianna Platt, MA, LMSW. Where on one hand, some fears are quite rational and form an essential part of the growth of the kids, other irrational fears might become more concerning and problematic even at an early age. Wanjiku Njoroge, medical director of the Young Child Clinic and Program Director of the Adolescent Psychiatry Fellowship at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, explicates, "Newborns have this built-in response mechanism for 'you put me down' or 'I'm falling' or 'that's a scary loud noise that made me startle ". These are age-appropriate. Some fears might be temporary while others might become more profound as time passes by. The type of fear also keeps on changing as the child grows. As a parent, watching your child in a state of fear can be very upsetting. When your child is terrified, it is normal for you to want to soothe and protect them. Acknowledging how and when to act, on the other hand, can help you strike a balance for your protective instincts and against fostering your child's worry. Following is a list of the top 10 toddler fears with possible ways to overcome those.
The dark and noises at night
Fear of darkness is a natural phobia. When talking about toddlers, this fear is even more intensified by an additional fright for the noises in the dark. Darkness becomes a scary aspect for the toddlers as it is unfamiliar and brings an uncomfortable silence. Fears can appear to make toddlers apprehensive about a wide range of things once a toddler's cognitive process grows more complex - particularly at night when it's easy for anyone's imagination to run wild. This is because they’ve developed to the age where they can use their imagination but aren’t old enough to comprehend and distinguish fantasy from reality, for instance imagining monsters.
How to deal with it: Establishing relaxing and enjoyable bedtime routines to help reduce the anxiety, playing calming music, or reciting stories and lullabies are some of the ways to reduce their anxiety at night and provide a sound and peaceful sleep. Putting night lamps in the bedroom or letting in some light to the room from outside can avoid completely.
Your child might find bad weather very uncomfortable and feel restless. Thunder and lightning are major sources of fear for toddlers. They find such things pretty unusual and hence fear it.
How to deal with it: Teaching your child about such weather conditions and telling them stories related to bad weather conditions to improve their understandings can prove to be helpful. Being a parent, you have to make your child realize that they aren’t alone; help them understand why they don’t have to be afraid, and also make sure that they feel protected around you in such situations.
Right from being infants to turning to the age of toddlers, the children fear strangers. They are used to some familiar faces in their daily life and just sight or small interaction with a stranger can scare them. As your child develops healthy attachments with familiar faces, they might start crying or fussing or going very quiet in front of strangers and even start hiding away from them.
How to deal with it:Help them get used to the new person while you hold them. Try to make them feel safe around them. When other adults approach your kid and he or she appears terrified, agitated, or distrustful, do your utmost to convince your child that everything is fine. When your toddler develops stranger to fear, it's critical to reassure that they're "safe" by holding them or keeping them near to them.
Loud noise is quite a common fear among toddlers. Being unaware of surroundings and unable to identify the source of strange noises makes them afraid of such loud noises. On hearing unfamiliar loud noises, they often start screaming and crying.
How to deal with it: It is of utmost importance to pay attention to such fears of your child and try to find out why exactly your child is scared of some particular sounds. Asking them questions, and explaining to them the reason or source behind the noises will help. Teaching your child some relaxation techniques and giving a positive association by giving a different context for the scary sound will help your child to process and cope with that fear. Do not force them to confront their fear but encourage and appreciate their progress in dealing with it.
Going to the doctors
Most of the children fear going to the doctors majorly because of the fear of vaccination and injections. Unfamiliar surroundings, nursing interventions, physical and social environment of a hospital or clinic might also appear strange to the toddlers.
How to deal with it: Always talk to your child about the visit in advance and explain to them the reason for going to the doctor. Carrying your child’s favorite toy to calm them down and comfort them is also helpful. Validate your child’s fear and reassure them. When in a hospital or clinic, distracting them with books, stories, pictures, and other things in the surroundings and engaging with them in related conversations will help.
Being left alone is one of the scariest things for a toddler. At an age where the toddlers want to engage with people, play with them and seek their attention, aloofness becomes a fright for them. In such situations, they feel lost and might call for their mother and start crying. Sleeping alone at night also becomes a challenging task for them.
How to deal with it: Make sure you never leave your child alone in new or unfamiliar surroundings. Allow them to carry their favorite toys with them. Do not leave your child alone for long even in their room and assure their safety and comfort in their surroundings.
It is natural for toddlers to have separation anxiety. They are used to being surrounded by their primary caretakers and become clingy to some extent because of which saying goodbye becomes difficult. It might also give them a feeling of abandonment. They might display excessive distress when being dropped at daycares and also act reluctant to go to school. Their behaviors at separation are loud, tearful, and sometimes difficult to handle.
How to deal with it: Give assurance to your child that you’ll be back soon. Following through on promises and developing a goodbye ritual can release this anxiety. Practicing being apart, like dropping off your kids at relatives’ or friends’ place once a while will develop the strength in them to overcome such anxiety.
Fear of dogs and other animals
While on one hand, many children love having an animal or pet around, others are scared of those. When an active imagination kicks in at this age, things get kicked up a notch. Fantastical scenarios for what a fast-moving, unpredictable beast may do, even loving dogs and cats can look scarier than ever. This fear can manifest itself in ways like screaming, crying, getting paralyzed when around an animal, breathing heavily, or trembling.
How to deal with it: Recognizing that this fear is natural and validating their fear is necessary. Teach your toddler that he or she can conquer this fear by training themselves to face it, even if they're terrified of something. Admit that it's difficult, but remind your child that if he or she can be brave, this fear will go. To remind them that they are capable of facing these problems, use examples from their own experience when they have overcome something that has made them terrified.
People in costumes
People in costumes can be scary for your toddler. As the costumes are mostly uncanny and weird, the one in costume doesn't appear to be somebody your youngster has ever met, which makes that person appear possibly hazardous. They might scream, cry, hide or run away from such people.
How to deal with it: If your child's phobia is genuine, don't ridicule them about it; instead, be supportive and let them know that you understand and that it's fine for them to be terrified of costumed characters. Play with masks at home ahead of time so that your youngster learns that the mask is only a costume with another actual person inside.
Fear of bathing or water
Bathing or water phobia is a frequent phobia among toddlers. Toilet flushes, thunder, physicians' medical equipment, and drains that take all the water away might be frightening to your youngster. It will take time for them to learn that while water can be dangerous, it can be a source of fun and enjoyment also.
How to deal with it: Some children are only at ease in the water if you join them. You may either carry them or hold their hand for a while before slowly easing yourself away. Letting your child get used to water can gradually lower this fear. Playing with water with them and making bathing a fun activity can help.
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