Fear is a normal part of toddler development. A 1 1/2 year old can be afraid of strange noises, animals and doctors. A few months later, he may be more afraid of the toilet, the dark and people in strange masks and costumes.
The causes of these fears are mainly –
- A little more knowledge of the world combined with too little actual experience. This can make the world seem dangerous without giving a perspective on how likely or unlikely any event actually is.
- A sense of how small and helpless he is in a world made up of big, tall people.
- A growing imagination, which allows him to conjure up dangers hitherto never thought of.
- An increasing memory that helps him remember fearful events or stories.
- Self-centeredness – if something can happen to their parents, siblings, friends or even fictional characters then it is definitely also likely to happen to them – or so they think.
- Toddlers easily pick up anxious thoughts or fears in people around them.
- An increased mobility which takes him away from the security of his parents.
- An active attempt by parents to frighten the child into obedience/dependence.
How can you help? –
- Acknowledge the reality of his fears and don’t ridicule or make fun of him. Remember you may have irrational fears too.
- Don’t push him into confronting the fear head on until he is ready to do so.
- Remember, if you suffer from fear of flying or vertigo you can control your lifestyle to a large extent to avoid such situations. A toddler has no control over his environment or the situations in his life.
- Let him know that it is all right to have fears and to some extent even adults are vulnerable. But don’t stress your own fears unduly.
- Don’t pass on your own fears or let a relative do so. Be normal when the toddler is confronted by something you are scared of, maybe he does not have the same fears.
- Let him know that you love him and he can rely on you to support him. Make it clear that you won’t let anything hurt him. But don’t turn it into an exercise in coddling.
- Keep scary things, like horror shows, masks, which can be controlled, out of his life.
- Don’t use the ‘bogey man is coming’ tactic to scare him into obeying you.
Lot of parents use the threat of something the child is scared of to make him obey. Don’t compound his fears. This is a very short term measure for disciplining your child as once he overcomes his fear the parents are left with nothing ‘to force’ the child to obey. Instead, instill discipline and get obedience by laying firm foundations in the toddler years.
Explain with demonstrations that loud noises can’t hurt him and that he can’t be flushed down the toilet. If demonstrations are not possible read or tell a story of another child who does what he is afraid to do, without making it very obvious and without making comparisons.
- Hold him securely while confronting the source of his fears.
- Help him learn control of his environment – how to operate a flash light or switch on a light when it is dark
- Help him talk about his fears and perhaps get them out of his system
- Without making fun of him use humour for reducing the fear through distraction, exaggerated expressions etc.
Remember most such fears will vanish by age 3-4.