Monsters under the bed. The dark. A random bit of rock... (Kids can be scared of funny stuff too). These are just some of the common fears toddlers experience at some point in childhood.
As children grow and discover the world around them, they develop their skills and personalities – and fears. Anxiety about certain situations and scenarios are perfectly normal and are usually developmentally staged as a child grows. Most are protective instincts are that are inbuilt in the human psyche when their brain registers that a situation could be unsafe.
Normal developmental fears as your child grows
Common anxieties in younger children up to the age of 18 months include fear of strangers, loud noises and being left on their own. This is an evolutionary process, Mia Scotland, a clinical psychologist, explains. ‘When a baby learns to crawl and begin to move away from their mother, separation anxiety is likely to kick in,’ she said.
READ: SEPARATION ANXIETY: HOW YOU CAN DEAL WITH THIS BABY PHASE
As toddlers get older and their imaginations develop, they may become anxious of the dark and imaginary creatures might permeate their nightmares, from monsters under the bed to ghosts and ghouls.
A simple reason for nighttime anxiety can be explained because ‘evolutionary, toddlers always slept with their mothers,’ Mia says.
‘Fears manifest themselves when they’re coping with being in a room on their own, away from their mothers; their brains register that they feel unsafe.’
These sorts of fears are linked with the evolution of the imagination too and can, in part, be accentuated with television shows and scary fairytales.
READ: TODDLER NIGHT TERRORS: HOW YOU CAN MANAGE THEM
‘A toddler has no real concept of what is real and what is imaginary,’ Mia says.
‘Children only begin to learn the difference from around eight years of age.’
Toddlers will also be biologically programmed to be anxious about food, especially new flavours and textures. ‘Evolutionary, children relied on their mothers to know what food is safe to eat and what food is not,’ Mia says. This is a natural instinct and toddlers will be unsure about what they eat until they have the experience to judge between one and another.
Passing on fears to your children
Evolutionary children are hard-wired to learn from parents, absorbing information like a sponge.
Interestingly, if a parent says or does something, it is the action that the child will register, Mia says.
‘If a parent says not to be scared of something, but their face expresses a fearful expression, a child will pick up on this.’
When worrying about whether you’re going to pass on a fear to your child, firstly ask yourself if it matters. ‘If it is something you’re concerned about passing on, then you need to face your fears and sort them out yourself first,’ Mia says.
How to tackle your child’s fears
The most important thing for a parent is to think about your reaction to a child’s fears and anxiety.
‘Children need a feeling of security and safety and it’s important to remember that their fears are very real to them,’ she adds.
So clearly, saying their fears don’t exist or are silly is not the right reaction, when it comes to reassuring your child.
READ: AFRAID OF THE DARK? 5 TRICKS TO BEAT YOUR TODDLER’S NIGHT FEARS
‘Instead, explore your child’s fears with them. If they’re scared of the monster under the bed, have a look under with them or invent a monster deterrent, such as a spray to make them go away before bedtime,’ Mia advises.
Fears or phobias?
If parents are worried about a recurring fear that their child doesn’t seem to be getting over or growing out of, it’s likely to be rooted in a traumatic event.
‘These are marked by horror reactions,’ Mia explains. ‘They are specific to a situation and are consistent. If it gets to a point when it is affecting their life, then it’s time to do something about it.’
Fears make you human and completely natural. So next time your toddler runs into your arms crying about sleeping in the dark or eating a food they’re not sure about, put yourself in their shoes and come up with a solution that works for both of you, giving your toddler the reassurance they need.
What is your toddler scared of? Let us know below.