Toddler fears are common, as little ones learn about the world around them and go through a stage of confusing fantasy and reality. Our articles about helping toddlers cope with fear and toddlers feeling scared at night offer helpful general advice, but here we’ll give specific tips for some of the most common things that frighten tots.
Whether it’s the blender, food processor or vacuum cleaner, your toddler’s fear of loud noises can’t drive you to abandon smoothies, soups, or a clean floor. If every time you turn on a noisy appliance your little one’s screams compete with the buzz, here are a few tips for you:
- Acknowledge the fear. If you read this entire article, you’ll see this is a theme. It’s helpful for children, in general, to feel understood. Wow, that’s a really loud noise! It hurts my ears, too.
- Explain the purpose of the noise-maker. This blender helps me make your favorite banana smoothies. Here, I’ll hold you and you can help me turn it on. See how it’s mashing up the fruit?
- Switch on, switch off. Spend a couple of minutes turning the machine on and off, gradually increasing the time you leave it on. Be sure to offer physical reassurance (like holding or standing close) while you do this.
If your toddler is going through an I’m-afraid-of-the-tub phase, first rest assured that tears and fears at bath time are not uncommon in toddlerhood, and usually resolve with time. In the meantime, if fun bath toys paired with lots of enthusiasm on your part don’t work, here are some things to try:
- Notice if a specific part of bath time is scaring them. If you realize it’s the water going down the drain, scoop them out before emptying the tub. If it’s the water filling up the tub, do that before you bring them into bathroom.
- Acknowledge their feelings, even though it’s the end of a long day and their fears seem so irrational that you could cry, too. Yes, sharks are scary! But sharks live in the ocean. You’ll never find one in our tub.
- In order to simply get your tot clean, try alternating sponge baths with co-baths for a little while (yes, a co-bath means you get in the tub, too). You can even try a gradual approach, where you start out in the tub with your little one, and once they’re happily splashing away you get out – slightly decreasing the amount of time you spend in the bath each time.
If anything small and leggy/buzzy terrifies your toddler, the number-one golden rule is to not freak out yourself. While fear of bugs tends to fade with age, plenty of adults exclaim and jump at the sight of one. The best thing you can do for your bug-wary little one, though, is to pretend you are okay with insects. Stay calm, and talk about the upsides (spiders create beautiful webs, bees make yummy honey, etc.). It’s also important to (calmly) teach bug safety, like slowly walking away if a bee is hovering.
Here are some other tips to try:
- Acknowledge and empathize. Ooh that fly buzzing near your head startled you! Then offer a reassuring hug. As a side note, using words like “startled” helps toddlers develop a rich feelings vocabulary which, in turn, contributes to emotional intelligence.
- Read books about bugs. This is a good formula for anything your toddler is uncertain about – whether it’s bugs, nighttime, or the impending arrival of a new sibling.
- Save a spider. If you find a spider or other crawly bug in your home, show your toddler how to cover it with a jar or cup, slide a piece of paper underneath, and release it outside.
If your toddler has had a scary run-un with a dog, or been been bitten by one, you’ll need to be extra patient with this fear. You may even want to enlist the help of a professional in working with your child to overcome it. That said, a general fear of dogs is also common in toddlerhood. Here are some things to try:
- Acknowledge the fear. I understand. Dogs can sometimes look or sound scary! But as long as we are safe around them, most dogs will not hurt you. (Our article on teaching dog safety to toddlers is an important read!).
- Read books about friendly dogs.
- Expose your child, little by little, to a known, very friendly and gentle dog. (Heads up, this approach requires time and patience, but it’s been shown to be effective.)
Here are the steps:
- Identify a very friendly, gentle dog. Maybe a neighbor, friend, or family member has one.
- Show your child pictures of the dog, and talk about how sweet it is.
- Bring your child to see the dog from a distance. Do this until they are comfortable with this step.
- Try introducing your child to the dog. Start by holding your child while you get closer to the dog. You may need to do this step several times. Eventually, pet the dog while you’re still holding your child.
- Follow your child’s lead, visiting the dog and offering physical reassurance, until they start to feel more comfortable.
Do you have additional suggestions? Drop them in the comments on this post!