How to Deal w Toddler Fears & Scaredy-Cats

New baby

Is Your Toddler a Scaredy-Cat?

It was storming today with tons of thunder and lightening. My kids have never been the fearful type; they are fiercely independent and require very little comforting. Until today. My older son woke up from his nap screaming, inconsolable and scared of the thunder. He did eventually settle with the distraction of his humidifier, but it took some time, cuddles and patience. I guess we are now in the stage of fear and anxiety.

It is entirely normal for toddlers to be fearful. Toddler fears are normal.  Anxiety is a natural condition that helps us cope with threats in our environment. It protects us from danger.

Toddlers are afraid of all sorts of things: the dark, monsters, thunder, bugs and animals. These fears will usually lesson over time, but there are a few things we can try to ease our toddlers’ fears.

It is entirely normal for toddlers to be fearful. Anxiety is a natural condition that helps us cope with threats in our environment. It protects us from danger.

  1. Take the fear seriously

These fears are very real and serious to your child. Acknowledge the fear and reassure without making your child feel silly or irrational. Explain that you understand why your child is fearful and support him through it, perhaps by approaching the feared thing together. Looking out the window at the storm helped my son to see that it was far from us, outside and we were not at risk.

  1. Use a comfort object

My kids’ loveys are immensely helpful in calming fears and helping them sleep. These objects, whether a stuffed animal, blankie or lovey can offer familiarity and reassurance when you are not around.

  1. Expose

By always avoiding the fear your child will not have a chance to feel reassured that the fear isn’t actually dangerous.  Safe exposure to what is feared will allow the fear to gradually lesson with time. Exposing to scary things from a distance can help as well. Picture books or videos can help demonstrate that what is feared is less of a risk than your child thinks. Watching a storm on the computer helped my son feel more secure.

  1. Be honest about toddler fears

Don’t lie to your child and say something that is dangerous isn’t. Some dogs are dangerous. Bees can sting. Lots of fears are based on real risk. Be honest and explore the fear in a real way. Don’t sugar-coat the risk, but explain it at your child’s level. Healthy reassurance goes a long way.

  1. Ask your child what he or she wants

Maybe your child knows exactly what will make him or her feel better. My son thought of using the humidifier to block the sound of the thunder, and it worked like a charm. Maybe a nightlight would help, or a magic phrase or ‘monster spray’.

  1. Don’t share your fears

I have an irrational fear of bees. I shrink at the sight of them. It is difficult not to run when they are nearby, but I try (not well enough according to my husband) to pretend to be strong. The risk – my kids will develop this same silly fear from me. Try to hide your fears, or minimize as much as you can.

When does it go too far?

If you child has fears that interfere with normal daily activities, or keeps your child isolated, please speak with your doctor. An intense and persistent irrational fear such as a phobia or anxiety disorder often starts as ‘normal’ fears that intensify over time.

Read more about nightmares and night terrors here.

Dr. Dina Kulik, MD, FRCPC, PEM

Written By: Dr. Dina Kulik, MD, FRCPC, PEM

Dina is a wife, mother of 4, and adrenaline junky. She loves to share children’s health information from her professional and personal experience. More About Dr Dina.

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