Toddlers are notorious for experiencing irrational fears. This can get annoying for parents, who have a hard time getting their toddlers to understand that such fears have no basis. What can you do? Here are some tips that may help.
Don’t Blow It Off
It’s easy to be dismissive about your toddler’s fears. After all, you know there’s nothing to be afraid of; it’s tempting to roll your eyes and tell her to forget it. But experts do not recommend this approach, claiming it may make your toddler feel like you don’t care, or that she needs to suppress her fears. It’s important to let your toddler know that communicating her fears and asking for help is a healthy thing to do.
Don’t Blow It Up Either!
While taking your toddler’s fears seriously and acknowledging them are important, taking them too seriously may actually make the fear worse.
Have you ever been around a campfire or somewhere that scary stories are being told? To get everyone really scared, the story teller may stop and say, “What was that noise?” in a scared tone of voice. This has the desired effect of getting everyone convinced that there actually is something scary in the woods or nearby, adding to the frightening effect of the story. This is what you want to avoid with your toddler!
Identifying with his fears is fine – “I can understand how that dog would be scary to you.” However, inflating the fear – “Dogs are so scary! They have such sharp teeth and they’re so big and loud” – is not recommended.
Getting Used To It
If possible, practice with your toddler in facing his fear. Some psychologists call these practice sessions “GUTI” exercises. The point is to set up a situation where the toddler has to face his fear and you help him cope with the situation in a calm way. He may then see that his fear has no basis.
For instance, back to the common toddler fear of dogs – get a friend with a calm dog to meet with you and your toddler. Make sure the dog is on a leash. Then try going through some practice motions and talk in a positive manner.
For example, you could pet the dog first and talk about how soft and silky its fur feels, enticing your toddler to want to try. Point out how sweet and friendly the dog is. You might try gently placing your toddler’s hand on the dog’s fur. Take your time. The first session of this nature may just involve your toddler being in close proximity to the dog and not touching it at all. See if you can repeat the practice times regularly, such as weekly, until your toddler is calm around the dog.
Safety, Not Fear
Last but not least, psychologists and other experts do not recommend using fears to promote safe behavior. An example of this might be telling the child a negative or scary story about a child getting hit by a car to induce a fear of crossing the street. Given the toddler’s way of thinking, this could end up as a disastrous fear of all vehicles and even a fear of riding in the car.