Toddlers tend to have a lot of fears, and reassuring them in just the “right” way may be intimidating. It’s not easy to calm young children, as they lack maturity and don’t have the cognitive development necessary be able to rationalize away anxieties and fears. After all, “fight or flight” is the most fundamental, primal human emotion, and it takes higher level thinking to decide what’s truly a threat – and what’s not.
Fear In Toddlers
At this age, the existence of the most varied fears in children is very common. This includes things like a fear of animals, insects, monsters and even normal activities like getting a haircut or seeing a doctor or dentist.
The fears at this stage are closely linked to the intense and constant process of imagination, which is both normal and involves your child conjuring up fanciful – and often fearful – situations.
Here are six solid ways to address your child’s anxieties and minimize his or her fear factors:
Validate The emotion of fear
One of the most important things you can do for your child is to provide emotional validation. Keep in mind that whether the fear is justified or not isn’t part of the validation equation; it just means you are accepting of the emotion and demonstrate to your child that that there’s no harm in feeling it. It also helps your child feel safe when sharing his or her feelings. Once you legitimize the emotion, you can move on to teach your child how to manage and regulate it.
Read books where characters face their fears
Try reading a book with your child about the fear he or she feels about a given situation. As you read together, explore what is most troubling to your child, and emphasize any examples in the book where the characters move past their fear.
Give your child honest information
Give your child the facts about what he or she fears most. For example, if your child is afraid of being stung by a bee, don’t tell him it doesn’t hurt. Instead, tell him that bee stings are relatively rare, and when it happens, it’s because the bee is scared. Bees don’t randomly attack. And then let your child know that if he does get stung, it will only sting for a quick minute, and the pain will swiftly go away. Your honesty along with the information will go a long way to calm your child’s fears and help build trust.
Try to regulate your emotions
Helping children overcome their fears can be a frustrating venture, especially if what they’re afraid of makes it hard or impossible to get things done. Keep in mind that while their emotions may feel irrational to you, in your child’s mind, they are very real. So your frustration can compound the situation. Do your best to stay calm and reassuring, and chances are it will be easier to move your child from fear to fine.
Give your child a comforting item
Children easily create a bond of security, trust, and tranquility associated with warm, comforting items like a blanket, a teddy bear or a plush toy. When your child’s fear is heightened, offer the blanket or lovey to help calm his or her fear.
Create creative solutions
When a child is afraid to sleep alone in a dark room, using a night light or even leaving on the light can help your child feel safe. But what if what your child is scared of is not as easy of a fix, for example, monsters under the bed? Just like turning on a light dispels darkness, you can come up with something to “fight” the monsters, like a water bottle that you can tell your child has anti-monster spray. Spritz under the bed to reassure your child that there’s a protection in place.
While logical, rational thinking is still developing, young children have a keen sense of imagination. This kind of creative solution works well with how your toddler’s brain works, providing comfort and maybe even a sense of fun – not fear.