How to Handle Your Toddler’s Fears
It’s a big world out there for your toddler, and he or she has a wild imagination when it comes to the dangers that lurk behind a closet, under a bed, or when you leave. When children reach the age of 2, they often begin to exhibit fears—some of which might make sense and some that might seem a little stranger.
Examples of common toddler fears include:
- Fear of animals
- Fear of baths
- Fear of the dark
- Fear of large objects
- Fear of loud noises
- Fear of strangers
- Separation anxiety
Besides having a vivid imagination, toddlers are susceptible to fears because they frequently lack a sense of cause and effect—and don’t understand some concepts like size and dimension. For example, a toddler may not understand that they are too big to be sucked down a bathtub drain.
If your child does experience anxiety and fear, listen to them explain their concerns. Try not to dismiss the fears or make your child feel silly—these fears are very real to them. While you can try to explain why a monster is not in your child’s closet or that an animal will not be harmful, your child may not accept the explanation. With time, your toddler really will “grow out” of these fears.
In the meantime, you can help your child develop coping mechanisms. For example, keeping a flashlight beside your child’s bed can help relieve fears of monsters in the dark. Teaching your child stress relief measures, such as thinking happy thoughts or taking deep breaths, can help your child work through feelings of anxiety. You can also comfort your child after a nightmare by holding him or her while talking softly and gently.
In some instances, a child’s anxiety can extend beyond age-appropriate symptoms and may signal a need for professional help. If his or her anxiety seems unusual or extreme, this can signal a more serious problem. If your child’s everyday activities are affected due to anxiety and the problem has been long-term, these are also signs professional intervention is needed. If the anxiety seems to worsen instead of reduce with time, this is another indication professional help is needed.
Toddler anxiety can be stressful and frustrating to a caregiver, just as it can to a child. Remember that your child is not trying to be difficult, but instead is experiencing a real sense of anxiety. Patience and practicing stress relief measures of your own can help as you ensure your toddler navigates this natural part of growing up.
- Buss, Kristin A, Which Fearful Toddlers Should We Worry About? Context, Fear Regulation and Anxiety Risk. Developmental Psychology. 2011 May; 47(3); 804-819.
- Iowa State University Extension, Understanding Children – Fears.
- Kids Health, Anxiety, Fears and Phobias.
- National Association of School Psychologists, Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders in Children: Information for Parents.
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