7 Common Fears Your Toddler Might Have, and How to Cope With Them
Toddlers are such strange little creatures. They’re completely fearless when it comes to certain (dangerous) things, yet afraid of some of the most innocuous, innocent stuff. My own toddler was afraid of the sound the dishwasher, but would hurl herself into the deep end of the pool without a moment’s hesitation. Go figure! Their worlds are constantly expanding, and they’re constantly being exposed to new things, so their fears are totally common and normal! But it can be hard to cope with some common fears in toddlers. Here are some to watch for, and some tips for helping your toddler deal.
Common fears in toddlers can vary, from being afraid of the dark to being scared of noises.
1. But fear of separation is a pretty big one.
Of course separation anxiety would kick in right when your child hits the age that preschool or full-time day care happens. Toddlers often become anxious to afraid when they’re away from their primary caregiver. They may not even want you to leave them with someone they know and love and trust! It can be frustrating, but it is a completely normal and healthy sign of attachment. To help relieve their separation anxiety, it’s important to develop a healthy goodbye routine. Get your toddler involved in the process of saying goodbye, and don’t try to sneak away when they’re not looking. Once a consistent routine of leaving and returning is established, they will start to develop a sense of trust and safety.
2. Another common (and inconveniently-timed) fear is the fear of toilets.
You just started potty training, so OF COURSE your kid is now afraid of the toilet and won’t go near it. But listen, I get it! Toilets are sort of strange when you don’t understand the mechanics. It’s a big, water-filled hole that sucks things down and makes them disappear, never to be seen again. They’re also sort of loud, which never helps. Reassure your toddler that they cannot be flushed down the toilet, and have them practice with small bits of toilet paper so they can see how it works. Also, when you start potty training, use a child seat that fits over the regular seat, to minimize the chances of falling in.
3. Common fears in toddlers can also include a fear of the dark.
Neither of my kids ever expressed a fear of the dark until they hit 3 1/2 or so. Then, they refused to be in their rooms unless they had a nightlight so bright it could be seen from the street. Suddenly, the dark was scary and full of terrifying stuff. If you’re wondering why your toddler is suddenly afraid of the dark, remember that they now have the gift of imagination! And that imagination doesn’t always conjure up pleasant things. Make sure to reassure your toddler that the dark isn’t scary. Maybe take them on a nighttime walk around the neighborhood so they can witness all the cool things that only come out at night. And let them pick out a nightlight and control the level of light in their room at night. You can gradually decrease it over time, but it’ll be comforting during this scared-of-the-dark phase.
4. Your friendly, loves-everyone baby has suddenly become a toddler who’s scared of strangers or people they don’t know very well.
Or, your child has always been wary of strangers and it’s gotten worse in the toddler years. A fear of strangers is totally normal and healthy, and honestly, good! Kids shouldn’t be comfortable going with people they don’t know. But it can also be difficult, especially if this fear extends to friends or family members that they don’t see very often. No matter what the scenario, you have to respect your kid’s space and boundaries. Give them the time they need to warm up to new people, and don’t force physical contact or conversation. Stick close to your toddler in new situations, and model friendly, engaging behaviors with people. But don’t force it for your kid.
5. Common fears in toddlers can include people or places they’re used to, as well. Like the doctor or dentist.
You may have gotten a good couple of years of easy doctor visits out of your kid, but now that their ability to associate certain places with unpleasant memories has developed, that could come to an end. Your 3-year-old might remember the last time they were at the doctor was painful (maybe they got shots), so the next time you’re there, they might lose it before even getting into the exam room. Prepare your child in advance for what to expect. Some parents choose to not tell their toddlers that they might get a shot, but that can erode their trust in you. Be upfront and honest, and offer rewards for their cooperation.
6. It’s not uncommon for toddlers to be afraid of animals, especially if they haven’t spent a lot of time around them.
Toddlers are generally pretty fearful of the unknown, and if they don’t spend a lot (or any) time around animals, it makes sense that they would be afraid when exposed to them. A healthy wariness of dogs is actually a good thing; you don’t want your toddler to run up to any dog they see and put themselves in harm’s way. Make sure they understand that dogs and cats and other animals are living creatures and as such, they deserve our respect and should be approached only when we have permission. Make sure they understand good and gentle touch when it comes to animals. If you have a dog or cat, make sure you model appropriate behavior at home when it comes to your own pets.
7. Loud noises is another of the common fears in toddlers.
Some kids are just super sensitive to noise, but also, some kids are very easily startled. If your toddler jumps or panics when you start the vacuum or run the dishwasher, it may be that they just weren’t prepared for the noise. Assure them that the noise is harmless, and and acknowledge that it startled them. Leading up to a loud noise, prepare your toddler: “I’m going to turn on the vacuum now, cover your ears!” Or involve them in the activities that can sometimes produce noise, like cleaning or small projects around the house. If they’re prepared for it and see it coming, it can be a lot less scary.
There are plenty of common fears in toddlers, and even some not so common ones! Their little brains are developing at such a rapid rate, and trying to process these new, exciting worlds. Make sure you’re helping them along and reassuring them every step of the way.
(Image: iStock / NiDerLander)