Toddlers have a growing intelligence and awareness of causes and consequences, which can lead to new fears and worries. Out of the blue, your toddler may act scared of shadows of leaves waving back and forth on his bedroom walls. The shadows may seem alive to him and even menacing. Your job is to explain, in a brief, calm way, that the wind is blowing the leaves and the shadows on the wall move as the leaves outside sway in the wind. The wind blows the leaves just as it blows your boy's hair when he is outdoors on a windy day. A simple, reassuring explanation is best. Below, find common toddler fears and how to respond to them:
- Animals: Often toddlers demand to be picked up if they encounter a dog on the street, even if it is leashed. Do not overreact. Don't baby the fears, but don't dismiss them either! Gently pick up your child and greet the dog and its owner cheerfully and easily. A gradual program to desensitize your toddler to such a fear often works. As she sees, day after day, that a cheerful, friendly neighbor and his nice dog are walking by, and that you pat that dog and it seems so happy, then she will gradually lose some of her fear.
- Night terrors: Toddlers can contemplate and conjure situations they never could when they were younger babies. If your little one wakes up crying and fearful during the night, be as natural as you can. Use a low voice, soothing tones, and reassuring words. Do not ridicule these new fears. Pat your child so sleep can return. He may have no recollection of such night fears on waking in the morning.
- Abandonment: Some toddlers become particularly fearful of being abandoned, especially if a parent who has stayed home full time now decides to go back to work. Your little one may well wake at night crying about fears she cannot really describe. This shows how smart your young toddler is! She has figured out that in the middle of the night, reassurance is truly close by. She knows you will come in and soothe her.
- Monsters: Often, even though you both look together and find no monsters, your toddler insists that after you leave his room the monsters will creep back. Assure him that you are stronger than any monster and that if one comes, you are strong and can protect him. Turning on a nightlight and leaving the bedroom door ajar seem to help allay such fears. Ridicule will only cause him to be more frightened. He will be bewildered by the scary feeling that you, the parent who is supposed to be his protector, do not believe him or offer to protect him.
Remember that every age of development brings new fears. The fear of an adolescent that the boy she has a wild crush on in high school may fall for the pretty classmate seated next to her seems as real a fear as the toddler's fears of monsters. Fears cannot be catered to, but they should never be laughed at either. Treat each fear as it occurs during your child's development with a calm voice, low tones, and reassuring words about being strong and able to protect her from whatever comes along.