Many fears are simply outgrown as the toddler matures into a more confident and worldly preschooler. But others persist throughout early childhood, and – if they’re not dealt with – sometimes into adulthood. Gently helping toddler face what scares them is the best way to ensure that today’s fears won’t continue to hold them back tomorrow. Help your toddler work through fears with:
- Illumination. An older toddler might be reassured by a simple, rational explanation. For example, you may silence a fear of sirens by explaining that: ‘Fire engines have to make a loud noise so cars and people will get out of the way and let them to get to the fire in a hurry. It’s a good, loud noise.’ For a young toddler, who may not be able to grasp even a simple explanation, demonstration may be the route to reassurance. For instances, a toddler who’s afraid of going down the drain with the bath water may feel better about bathing after a little display of what can and can’t go down drains (water and soap bubbles can, rubber duckies and children can’t). A toddler afraid of the vacuum may be relieved to see that though cracker crumbs can be vacuumed up, a toy truck, a brick, and Mummy’s foot can’t be.
- Indirect exposure. A toddler who’s afraid of being flushed down the toilet may gain confidence from being read a storybook about a child who uses the toilet and lives to tell about it. A toddler who’s afraid of fire engines may benefit from looking at a picture book about firefighters or a visit to the fire station. A toddler who’s afraid of dogs may find four-footers less foreboding after seeing a placid movie about a girl and her dog. Toddlers who are afraid of a natural phenomenon, such as thunder, may become less fearful after being read a simple book that explains it. Avoid booked, pictures or movies, however that might intensify a toddler’s fear. No amount of girl-dog bonding is going to soften a toddler’s reaction to a ferocious attack scene-even if it’s a bad guy who’s being attacked.
- Exposure and desensitization at a distance. Holding a toddlers who’s afraid of the vacuum cleaner at the other end of the sitting room while Daddy vacuums or standing with a toddler who’s afraid of draining water at the doorway while the bath empties may help him or her face the fear at a safe distance. Similarly, it may help to let a dog-fearful toddler watch a playmate frolic with a neighbour’s dog, near enough to hear the giggles and see the glee, but far enough so that there’s no imminent threat.
- Increased control with closer exposure. Fear tends to make anyone at any age feed out-of-control. So helping your toddler to gain some measure of control over the feared object or situation may take the edge off the fear. For example, experimenting with turning a vacuum cleaner on and off may help the fearful toddler see that the control lies in the human hand, not the dust-sucker. Riding on the vacuum when it’s unplugged and silent may also be reassuring.
Set up a toddler who’s afraid of the dark or of monsters with a ‘prop’ or two to increase his or her sense of power and control: a flashlight, a friendly night-light, a teddy-bear sentry under order to chase away unwelcome visitors, a magic word that banishes night creatures or a magic, monsters-reppling potion of water in a spray bottle.
- Ventilation. We feel better about our fears when we talk about them. Toddlers are no different. Ask your toddler to talk about his or her fears while you lend an understanding ear.
- A sense of humor. Though you should never make fun of a child’s fear, some of the techniques, for reducing tension and helping a child relax could in the end reduce fears.