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As toddlers learn about the world around them, they can start to develop fears and anxieties. It is a normal part of development, and just something that we need to help our little ones understand better. They need to learn about the items or circumstances that have become fearful to them, and they need to learn about coping strategies for fear.
Sensitive, passionate children, are likely to have fears that come along with their deep feelings. It is so important to help our toddlers through this time, and there are a variety of ways that we can help ease our toddler’s minds.
1. Acknowledge the fear
It is important to validate your child’s feelings and acknowledge what they are fearful of. Often times it is something small. As adults, it is easy to decide that this item or circumstance is not worth being fearful of. It is easy to come across as belittling the fear. One of the first and most important steps for our toddlers in overcoming a fear, however, is simply having that fear acknowledged.
As an adult with a silly fear, I can relate to this one on a personal level. I am terrified of bees. I have no good reason, and I know it is not worthy of being a real fear. But… it is a real fear to me, and there is not much I can do about it. And when other adults tell me how silly it is, and how ridiculous it is, I feel… small. I fell unheard and unseen. Yes, logically I know it is not worth freaking out and running away when a bee enters my small bubble…but fears aren’t logical in any way shape or form. I feel much safer, when those around me acknowledge how I feel and refrain from belittling my fear.
After acknowledgement, comes empathy-yes it is a fear, and yes I understand how it feels to be afraid. You do not have to understand this exact fear, but it is so comforting to hear empathetic words. It really shows someone that you are listening, and that you are taking them seriously. Our toddlers are little people. They want to feel heard and understood, just like adults do.
3. Understand the fear (ask questions)
The next step is understanding the fear. We need to understand the fear, so that we can help with problem solving and solutions to overcome or move past the fear. Ask questions and get to the bottom of the fear. A great problem solving technique that I used as an engineer, is something called the 5 Why’s. It’s as simple as it sounds. Ask why until you get to the root of the problem.
Here’s an example:
My daughter is afraid of entering public restrooms.
There are loud noises that startle her.
The restrooms are often chaotic with lots of people, hand dryers, and toilets flushing and making loud noises.
Why is she afraid of this?
The noises happen at unpredictable times, and toilets have flushed while she’s on them before causing her to be very frightened.
She’s too small for the toilet sensor to pick up.
Now that I know all of this, I can provide her with ways to solve the problem. We go into the single family restrooms if they are available to reduce noise and chaos. I reassure her by covering the sensor on the toilet so it doesn’t automatically flush while she’s still on it and startle her.
Without taking the time to understand her fears, I wouldn’t be aware of them enough to help reduce the fear factor.
4. Teach them about their fear
Educate your child about the object or the circumstance. Teach them what it is, what it’s used for, how it’s helpful, the benefits of it, etc. Tell them the whole truth. Kids know when we are being honest with them, and they deserve that respect- which includes telling them the whole truth in a way that is age appropriate.
That means don’t leave out the scary parts. Yes bees sting. Don’t just skip over that. Just include that as part of the bigger picture. They only sting when they feel threatened. Explain when they feel threatened. Discuss how they make honey. They make it possible for fruit to grow on plants. You get the picture. Focus on the positive and the benefits, but talk about it all.
If the item is something that is safe for your child to physically explore, then let them do just that. Let them touch it, take it apart, and put it back together. Let them ask questions. Let them learn. The more they learn about it, the less scary the object will be- and learning is best done through exploration.
5. Comfort your child
Give hugs, hold hands, and tell your child that you are here for them. Give your child a favorite blanket or stuffed animal to hold onto. Comfort them as much as you can so they feel safe.
6. Empower your child
When your child is calm, teach them ways to help work through their fears. Be specific to the fear. Have them create a spray bottle with glitter in it to use as “monster spray”, if they are afraid of the dark. Teach your child to cover the toilet sensor with a sticky note so it doesn’t flush unexpectedly. Get creative and involve your child.
You can also teach some general ways to help stay calm:
– Count to 3
– Take deep breaths
– Squeeze hands together
– Sing a song
We taught my daughter to “power through”. She says those words to herself every time she runs into something scary. For her it is the seed pods that fall from trees, and a ripped mat at gymnastics. She focuses really hard on what she’s doing (going for a walk, or gymnastics), and powers through.
PRAISE, praise, praise, when you see your child using the tools you’ve taught!
7. Take the focus off of the fear (distractions)
If there isn’t time for any of the above in the moment, and you need a quick fix…try distracting your child. Keep their attention elsewhere, and not on the fear. This can help get you through a right now situation, and then you can go through and address the actual fear at a later time.
Don’t forget, no matter how small or irrational the fear is to you, it is huge to your toddler. There worlds are much smaller than ours, so a hiccup in their world can be like a volcano erupting in ours. Have patience and understanding as you work through these fears with your toddler. And don’t be surprised if new fears pop up as they learn more and more about the world around them.
It’s Babywise Friendly Blog Network week! We are all talking about the topic of “fears” this week. Here is the full schedule: (Links will be live on the day scheduled)
- Monday: Valerie – What To Do When Your Child is Scared of the Dark
- Tuesday: Katrina – How to Ease Your Toddler’s Fears
- Tuesday: Natasha- 9 Ways to Teach Kids Bravery
- Wednesday: Christine – 3 Powerful Ways To Conquer Your Toddler’s Irrational Fears
- Wednesday: Carrie – Managing Fears at Bedtime
- Thursday: Kimberly – Real vs. Fake Fears: How To Distinguish Between the Two
- Friday: Emily – How to Help Prevent Childhood Fears
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