Once upon a time your child was fearless and had no trouble wandering around without getting scared of anything…And as your baby entered toddlerhood, he seems to be scared of the smallest of things, right? The one who wandered in the night alone is now scared of darkness and the one who used to play with the animals, is now also is scared of insects and animals. For an adult, it may seem trivial, but to a toddler, it is extremely terrifying. In the first year, it is generally the child’s approach is “What I don’t Know Won’t Hurt Me!”, gradually at 2 years, toddler fears begin.
A lot of things like strangers, strange noises, darkness, toilet, clowns, animals, insects, masked people, etc can scare toddlers. These toddler fears generally start after age two. Parents protect and nurture the baby from the infant stage to the first year and the baby is innocent. But somewhere in the second year understanding kicks in, their knowledge starts to increase, they will start understanding how what works. Consequently, the fear starts developing. There are a few developmental changes to conforming to their fears.
To handle toddler fears, we must first need to understand the nature of a toddler’s fears and then decide how to handle them. To understand the fear, we must first know the reasons behind that fear or any fear. You need to think from a toddler’s perspective and his level of development. There can be one or many reasons why your toddler is scared. It can be a combination of the below-listed reasons. Just a few points to help you understand the “Why behind Toddler Fears”.
Reasons Behind The Toddler Fears
Lack of experience
Since day one, your little one has been learning the “Cause and Effect” nature of how things work. The baby knows he or she will get milk if they cry when they or hungry or if they need their nappies changed. The baby cries if it needs to be held or to be entertained. A lot goes on in an infant mind. When he climbs his developmental ladder, he understands how it works, he knows that everything has an effect.
But is your toddler nature enough to understand rational and irrational things? To understand that something will never happen to them. He has not enough experience to differentiate between reasonable and unreasonable experiences. Suppose if your toddler has seen a neighbor’s pet holding the hand in the mouth(while playing, completely harmless), what your toddler is thinking now is “That dog is going to bite me! It is biting that uncle”. A toddler does not understand the difference between a playful bite or a serious bite. He does not have enough experience and that can be a reason behind toddler fears.
Another example is a toddler can never accept that monsters do not exist. As he or she grows they might even draw and show how monsters look. That’s how the imagination works.
Being Alone – Most agreeable reason behind toddler fears
Ever noticed how your toddler is bold, courageous, and tries new stuff when you are around? This is because when parents are around toddlers feel safe and protected. So who will protect them when they are alone? A child’s thought when sleeping alone at night might be “Who will save me from the monsters under my bed?”, the same child sleeps soundly if you are around, knowing that you will protect him or her no matter what. He knows he is safe at home with his parents.
Your child has not yet completely realized his or her capability to protect himself or herself in situations or not yet developed knowledge around how to protect themselves. In my opinion, the most agreeable reasons for toddler fears must be being alone and feeling unprotected.
Imagination Runs Wild In Toddlers
Imagination plays a huge role in toddler fears. Toddlers have a beautiful and creative imagination. (Parents of toddlers are nodding their head and already remembering their toddler’s latest imagination. Right??) A toddler can imagine making a castle out of legos, he can imagine riding on a horse sitting on his tricycle. The toddler imagines monsters under beds. A toddler does not like being away from parents. As the imagination grows, toddler fears tend to grow too.
Knowledge Kicks In
When your toddler gets smarter, he might start thinking that the world is a dangerous place. The toddler is now capable of thinking a thousands of thoughts and scenarios, out of which a few can scare him or her. The new concepts he is learning can help him come up to conclusions which are scary for a toddler. For example, when water goes down the drain, can’t a person as small as him, fall into the drain?
Knowing that he is small can be a reason behind toddler fears
The toddler has an understanding that he is small compared to all the people or things around him. Most of the people (apart from his friends) are all too big and are doing things he cannot do yet. Think like this, You are in a room full of athletes, bodybuilders, and fighters and you are a normal person with a simple physique. There is no reason to be afraid, but you would be intimidated right?.
Me and My Family
Being self-centered is a characteristic of toddlers up to almost three to six years of their life. Everything belongs to them. They learn a sense of mine, My toys, My Parents, My friends etc. They love all the focus and attention. So when something happens around them that’s fearful, can happen to them too. For example if mom burnt her hand a little while heating milk, it can happen to me too. If the dad is ill, then the toddler can be ill too. If his brother fell from his bicycle and got a scraped knee, then the toddler can fall from his tricycle and hurt himself as well.
Retaining memory – Developmental reason behind toddler fears
In the first two years, a toddler cannot fetch any memory when his mind wants to. Infant to two years, babies might not have long term memories. A lot of developmental changes happen in the first year of your child’s life. We can see these developmental changes in the form of the milestones your infant achieves. But as your little one enters toddlerhood, he tends to link memories to events. So if your toddler has had a fearful event with a dog, your toddler can now remember the event that happened with him whenever he sees a dog. (To be honest, I am scared of dogs to date, I had been chased by a few when I was 4 or 5 years old. Whenever I see a dog, my heartbeat starts to increase and the flight mode kicks in.) So imagine if a grown-up woman can be afraid, imagine what would be going on in that small and inexperienced mind.
Happened to my friend!! It can happen to me too!
Toddlers are really emotional beings. They can feel for others. So whenever a toddler has someone around him who is scared. Your toddler might be scared of insects. just like his friend from school If parents are scared or anxious about something, the toddler too might be scared about similar things. Suggestibility can be another likely reason behind toddler fears.
Too much exposure to world stuff ( News, movies etc)
When you watch the news and your toddler is around, bad news can fuel their fear. Bad things happening on TV can happen to them. Moreover toddler can imagine only about things you have exposed him. Their imagination runs wild around things they know of. But it is a good idea to keep them away from News as the bad news or any hurtful event can impact their minds. Watch what can have an impression on their mind. Avoid movies with bullying or any fights or any kind of fear inducing events in it.
Another day, we were watching “The Lion King” movie with our son, hoping he might like it. He did not like the lions hurting. He did not enjoy the movie and he cried for a long time. Young toddler minds are very impressionable. Please monitor what you show your child and for how long you expose your child to the screen time. Other important things parents need to know are the effects of children watching too much tv.
Read an article about “How to make sure your child benefits from TV Viewing”.
Fear of being hurt
Toddlers despise pain (physically) and they hate being sad too. Toddlers do not like anyone hurt or sad (especially his or her loved ones). So the thought of pain or Mom and Dad hurt scares the toddler. If a toddler has ever seen an accident (in real life or on television) he or she might be scared that getting in a car can hurt me or Mom & Dad. A similar association of anything to being hurt can induce toddler fears.
Separation Anxiety is one of the biggest reasons for toddler fears. Toddlers hate being away from Parents (except maybe for school time). Some children do not like to be separated from their parents even for playschool or nursery. It is crucial to prepare your child for preschool. Every child takes time(varied in all children) to adjust to being away from parents. When you leave for work, your child may be fearing that you might not come back to him (in spite of you coming back every day to him).
Actually, if you see the overall picture, fear is not a bad thing. It can help your toddler be safe. Fearful toddlers generally do not put themselves in dangerous situations knowingly. The fear of being burnt will keep him or her from touching the stove or going near flames. Fear of dogs can keep him or her away from the street dogs which might be harmful. Completely fearless toddlers are the ones ending up in trouble or in hazardous situations.
But if the toddler’s fears start disturbing their normal routine or daily lifestyle, then it is time for you to take some actions to help your child overcome that fear. You need to first understand the nature of the fear and handle them carefully in a way that suits your child. Setting rules and boundaries are one way you can let your child know that beyond those boundaries you might feel scared. Parent’s need to teach children that following rules can help him be safe. However, you know your child the best. Talk to your toddler and encourage your toddler to talk about their fears. Hence you should formulate a way to work around your child’s fears based on what works best for him.