It’s inevitable: at some point you’re going to be sound asleep, only to be woken up by your toddler coming into the bedroom to sleep with you because something scared them at night.
It happens to almost all parents, and it can sometimes be a pretty frustrating experience. While you might find it challenging at first, it’s important to know that virtually all children will develop some sort of fear as they’re growing up; it’s a totally normal part of childhood.
The important thing to remember is that it’s your responsibility as a parent to properly deal with your child’s fear, and help them overcome it.
How to Help Them Overcome Their Fears
There are a few things you can do to help them, both directly and by understanding how and why they have the fear. If you take the time to understand your child’s fear and the ways you can help them overcome it, it will make it much easier for the both of you.
First of all, you need to understand your child’s fear. Whether it’s a fear of the dark, strangers, flying, or anything else, the first thing to do is to understand exactly what it is your child is afraid of.
Be sure not to belittle or make fun of the fear. While it probably seems like a silly or irrational fear to you, to your toddler it’s very real, and very scary.
If you make fun of it, there’s a good chance that they’ll close up and stop talking to you about their feelings. You want them to feel comfortable telling you about their fears no matter how silly they might seem.
Reassure & Help Them Explore the Fear
Let your child know that you understand their fear, and that you understand what it’s like to be afraid of something. Try to be as understanding as possible.
Whatever you do, don’t try to convince them that the fear is irrational or silly. Instead of trying to reassure them that there’s no reason to worry – Don’t say something like, “Don’t be silly, there’s no monster under your bed!“, but be supportive and offer them help, such as, “Let’s both look under your bed together to make sure there’s nothing scary under there!”
It makes a huge difference!
Depending on their fear, there are different ways you can help them explore and conquer it. For example, if they have a fear of doing a particular activity, you can give them a demonstration of you doing it without anything bad happening to you.
Or, sometimes giving positive reinforcement helps: if they have a fear due to past experiences – a scary doctor’s office visit, for example – you can offer them a treat afterward to help distract them from the fear and also encourage them to go through with it.
Comfort Objects – They Can Help a Lot!
A comfort object, like a baby blanket or teddy bear, can be a very helpful tool in helping your child overcome their fears.
These objects give your child a sense of reassurance and familiarity when they’re in scary or unfamiliar situations. If your child has a favorite stuffed animal or blanket, you can encourage them to bring it along with them – you might be surprised at how much it helps.
If your child has a fear of strangers, or a fear of being alone at preschool or meeting new friends, a comfort object can be a big confidence booster to a toddler.
If they want to bring it along with them, encourage them to do so! Don’t worry about them carrying a threadbare blanket or stuffed animal around for their entire childhood; they’ll probably get over the urge to bring it with them by the time they reach the end of toddlerhood.
Other Things That Can Help: Do’s & Don’ts
On top of the above advice, you can also try:
- Do: Praise all their efforts: Even the smallest steps in the right direction are worth praising.
- Don’t: Show them your own fears: While it can be tough, if you have a fear, such as a fear of spiders, try not to let your child see your reacting negatively toward it. Children not only pick up on you being brave about things, but also your own fears, as well.
- Do: Talk to them about the fear. Try to get them to explain what exactly it is that scares them. If they have difficulty finding the right words to explain their feelings, you might have to help them a little.
- Don’t: Give them any scary surprises. Your idea might be to surprise them with something related to their fear, or not give them warning that they’ll have to face it. This is never a good idea – the better prepared they are, the better chance they’ll have of overcoming it.
Finally, Some Advice
Above all, the best thing you can do is to be patient and understanding. You probably remember similar fears you yourself had as a child, and you know just how traumatizing those fears can be.
If you are patient and understanding with your child as they face their fears, it will make it much easier for both of you.