Babies have little to fear because they’re less aware of the world around them. Toddlers, on the other hand, understand that there are forces beyond their control, which - when coupled with their growing imagination and a lack of understanding – oftentimes leaves them feeling anxious and scared. Before you can begin to address your child’s fears, you need to understand why they develop in the first place. Here are some of the main reasons why toddlers develop certain fears:
Toddlers understand the concept of cause and effect, but aren’t yet capable of distinguishing what’s realistic and what isn’t, so sometimes they might come up with potential results that to us adults would seem completely preposterous, such as thinking that a vacuum cleaner can suck the toddler up, or that the toddler might get flushed down the toilet or down the drain with the bathwater.
The smarter and more aware of the world around them a child becomes, the more dangerous and scary that world seems to be. With greater thinking capabilities, your toddler will be developing new thoughts, ideas, and conclusions, and will be constructing countless frightening scenarios that can become a source of great anxiety to your little one.
An active imagination can be a great source of fun and entertainment for a young child, but it can also be a double-edged sword. A toddler crawling under a table can imagine themselves in their very own castle, but at the same time a toddler trying to sleep in a dark room can easily imagine themselves in a witch’s cave or in a monster’s territory. The more imaginative a child is, the greater their fear can become.
Babies tend to forget frightening or distressing incidents quickly because their memories aren’t properly developed. A toddler, however, retains memories of scary incidents for a long, long time. Being bitten by a dog, falling off a swing, or tripping down the stairs can leave toddlers feeling anxious about going through the same experience again, engendering new fears. Even fictional events such as reading about Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother being eaten by the wolf can create new and irrational fears in young children.
Toddlers can easily become affected by the fears and emotions of others; if your toddler’s playmate shows distress and cries when approached by a dog, your toddler might pick up on that fear and adopt it as its own. In the same way, if you or your husband are afraid of heights, your toddler might become afraid of heights as well.
Young children relate everything to themselves, as they are very self-absorbed. If they see a boy in a book being chased by a lion, then they think the same could happen to them. If a playmate or TV character falls off a swing and injures themselves, then your child imagines that the same could happen to them.