Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Dealing with Toddler fears

I am increasingly finding my 20-month old toddler running to me at the sound of any loud and sudden noise, or burying her face on my shoulder when a stranger approaches or stares, and refusing to step into the living room till I switch on the lights. Yes she has developed some real toddler fears.

I choose to believe that her fears are developmental – typical of children her age, instead of calling her timid. Though her fear is so excessive sometimes that it does worry us a little.

(1)   Fear of sudden loud noises

Be it the machine from construction site nearby, the rubbish collection truck that comes behind our block daily, the water running down the drain when we flush the toilet, the thunder in a stormy weather, or even the vibration of our washing machine, all these noises will send her running to us and asking to be carried immediately.

(2)   Fear of strangers

She often buries herself on my shoulder when people step inside the lift. When she is walking in the park, a stranger passing by will make her halt and stand still till the person has passed her. Indians also intimidate her because of their skin color. Last Sunday we were in a small family restaurant for lunch, and while I was feeding her I observed she had slowly bended her head till her chin was almost touching the table, her eyes were fixing on the table, and she was extremely quiet and still. I found her action very weird until I realized the old man at the cashier, he looked all grim and sullen and he just sat there and stared at all the people in the restaurant. Kah Yen must have caught his eyes and was frightened. We had to quit our lunch early and come back home to feed her.

(3)   Fear of dark

Strictly speaking darkness has not created much fear in her yet because she is still falling asleep on her own perfectly well every night after lights out, but she often refuses to enter into the living room when we come back from outside in the evening, until I enter and switch on the light.

Conquering the babyslide

Like what I said, I believe her fears are common and are developmental. With little life experience, little knowledge of the world around them, increasing memory and growing imagination, it is not uncommon that she have changed from innocent and acting on instinct infant to a toddler who becomes fearful of the unknown. I have been thinking and reading about how to handle toddler fears and here are what I gathered.

(1)  Acknowledge their feelings, their fears are real

They may be irrational, but they are real. Ignoring or pretending a fear doesn’t exist often intensifies it and makes it the basis of other fears.

Don’t laugh at them or tease them about their fears. Acknowledge their feelings and offer your support. For the restaurant case, we brought her back home to feed her lunch.

(2) Give your support, don’t force them to confront

When they are fearful, carry them and hold them. Let them feel secure and protected. Reassure them that you won’t let anything hurt them.

Don’t force your toddler to confront. It could really scare them and even turn fear into a phobia. Our sensitive support and understanding combine with gradual exposure will help them to grow out of their fears eventually.

(3) Control your own fear, it is contagious

In some situations maybe you are also caught off-guard, don’t jump on your feet or panic. Your fear is contagious. I remembered once when I was reading with Kah Yen on our bed, the wind suddenly blew and our bedroom door was slammed close. I was shocked and a bit scared myself and I soon sensed she was looked up cautiously from her book. Our fear can easily pass to them. Be calm and let them see you are in charge and there is nothing to be fearful of.

(4)   Teach them the knowledge

Fear is often from the unknown. So show them the things that cause them fear and explain about them. I often carry her to our kitchen window to show her rubbish collection truck passing by and what the cleaners are doing. I also sit with her in front of our washing machine to watch the clothes turning inside and the water gushing in and explain to her the machine is washing our clothes. I read books to her about thunders and storms.

(5)   Root out sources of fear in their lives

We never read any storybooks on monsters or witches or unknown giant creatures to her. She was not exposed to any TV or video program that might expose her to such things too

(6)   Don’t scare your toddler yourself

Unknowingly you could be the person that introduces certain fear in them. Sometimes we give them warnings like “If you don’t be a good girl, the police will come and catch you” etc, these threats are really unnecessary and unhealthy and they only serve to induce fear in our children.

When our toddlers are fearful, we parents should always be positive and encouraging. Instead of saying, “Don’t be afraid”, “Don’t act like a baby”, assure them you understand their fears and encourage them to overcome them. When the children are bigger, we can even share with them our own childhood stories of our fears and how we overcame them. Take heart. Many fears are simply outgrown when the toddler matures into a more confident preschooler.

PS: Part of this post is from WHAT TO EXPECT - THE TODDLER YEARS book.

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