Navigating a Toddler’s Fears
My daughter is at the age where monsters under the bed are becoming very real. Her capacity for imagination is developing and it’s all very new and worrying to her. Somewhere around two to three years old, children learn to be anxious and afraid of things, even if it’s entirely fictional, they don’t understand that it’s often irrational.
It’s all too easy to say that there’s “no such thing as monsters”, or “don’t be silly”. To her, these are real concerns and it never feels good or reassuring to be called silly.
The Australian Better Health channel website outlines contributing factors for kids who are more fearful than others:
- Genetic susceptibility – some children are generally more sensitive and emotional in their temperament
- At least one anxious parent – children learn how to behave from watching their parents
- Overprotective parenting – a dependent child is more likely to feel helpless and this can lead to generalised anxiety
- Stressful events – such as parental separation, an injury or hospital stay.
Her fears need to be acknowledged and dealt with as if the things she’s imagining are real.
Anxiety Canada has some great resources and further explanations, such as: “Anxiety is one of the most common mental health concerns for children and adults, affecting upwards of 20% of children and adolescents over the lifespan. Anxious youth are often quiet and well behaved, and thus frequently go unnoticed by their parents, teachers, and coaches. Alternatively, others can be disruptive and act out, being labeled as having attention deficit disorder or being a “bad” kid. Both scenarios result in youth failing to receive the help they desperately need. Sadly, untreated anxiety can lead to depression, missed opportunities in career and relationships, increased substance use, and a decreased quality of life.”
For example, “There’s a bear in my cupboard”. Firstly, I’d explain that there aren’t any monsters/bears, etc. Then remind her that she’s safe and that I’ll look after her. I’d either bring her with me to check or go and make a bit of a show of checking all the corners of the room for anything might be hiding.
If the fears are coming out at night, a small nightlight might be useful, as well as a nice and relaxing bedtime routine. Make sure they’re not watching anything too stimulating in the hours before bed.
As with all other feelings, fears can’t be negated. Monsters can be searched for, and dealt with. Maybe even lighten the mood by wrestling a teddy, but let them know it’s just playing.