Things that are new and different can seem scary to toddlers at first. You may even be able to recall the fears YOU had at this age. Certain fears are common and normal at certain ages, and as children grow, their worries change and grow as well.
Here are some common toddler fears, followed by some tips for supporting the child:
Fear of the Potty
It’s super common for kiddos to fear the potty itself, particularly in regards to loud flushing sounds or falling in. Other children may be fine with the potty, but feel worried about the process of toilet training. They wonder whether it’ll hurt to go, and they can feel intense shame about accidents, which only adds to the anxiety.
HOW TO HELP: Get a potty-training potty so it’s smaller and lower to the ground. Toddlers feel more secure and comfortable on these than on the big potty, even if someone’s holding them. Keep their favorite books and toys handy to distract them while they’re going. If they’re frightened by loud flushing, prepare them for the loud noise beforehand.
Fear of the Dark
I think almost every child goes through this at some point in their lives! It’s common for it to extend past toddlerhood and into older childhood.
HOW TO HELP: Get a dim nightlight and sound machine to muffle any stray noises that cause your kiddo’s anxious imagination to go into overdrive. Make the bedtime routine consistent and include lots of relaxation and connection so that kids are going to bed on a high note.
Fear of Loud Noises
Common examples include – thunder, fireworks, car alarm, and so on. If your child’s sensitivity to loud noises seems particularly extreme (as in, they have very intense reactions that last a long time), they may be struggling with sensory-related challenges and need occupational therapy.
HOW TO HELP: This one’s tricky because you can’t always predict when a loud noise might happen! The key word is comfort. When they react to a loud noise, snuggle them close and reassure them they’re safe. If you DO know a loud noise is coming (ie, fireworks), prep them beforehand. “The fireworks are going to make big noises – KABOOM! And then we’ll see pretty lights!” Help them problem-solve if needed as well: “If you don’t like the loud sound, you can cover your ears.”
Fear of Being Separated from a Parent
This can pop up in a variety of ways – your child may cling or throw tantrums at school drop-off, OR they may do great with school, only to get really upset at bedtime.
HOW TO HELP: I could do a whole post just on separation anxiety. The main highlights here are to be calm and make empathetic statements like, “You’re scared to be without me.” However, it’s important that you hold that boundary! (“I know you don’t want me to go, but you’re for staying with Grandma while I’m working.”) Cancelling your plans when they get upset will only reinforce the fear for them.
Fear of Weather
HOW TO HELP: Again, this one could happen without warning, and your best response in those times is to be comforting. But if you do know something’s on its way, prep the child beforehand. “It’s going to rain, and there might be thunder and lightning. We’re safe inside. I’ll be here with you.”
In the coming weeks, I’ll be covering other ages and fears!