YOUR happy-go-lucky toddler has suddenly decided that monsters live under his bed. As a result, trying to get him to settle down at night has become a real challenge.
Irrational fears are a normal stage of toddler development. Toddlers have a vivid imagination and have difficulty distinguishing fact from fiction. They can also remember past episodes that were scary. So it can take very little for them to overreact to all manner of things.
Often these fears include animals, particularly dogs, monsters, the dark or getting lost.
It's important that you not belittle these fears. They may seem silly and pointless but they are very real to your child.
Look for children's books about your child's fears. You can often find reassuring books about a child who handled the monsters under her bed or her fear of the dark. These books let her know that she's not the only child with the fear, and that with help and support from you, she can conquer it.
If she has a more unusual fear you may need to either find a more generic story about fear in general or make up a story.
You can also encourage him to work through his fear through art or dramatic play. He can draw the monster and then draw himself chasing it away. Or he can act out a victory over his particular fear. Doing something concrete in this fashion works well for many kids.
Night lights or glow-in-the-dark stickers provide enough light to allow kids to look around and see there are no monsters present. Or the light can simply comfort a child who does not like the darkness. Parents have come up with myriad ways to help fearful toddlers settle at night. Here are a few nifty ideas to get your creative juices flowing.
A spray bottle with water that you explain is called "Monster Away" does the trick with some kids or a sign on the door saying "No Monsters Allowed." Or how about a stuffed animal that stands guard at the door or on the bed?
Teach her ways to handle her fears. She can learn to take deep, slow breaths whenever she is upset and calm herself. Coming to you and having you hold her hand or cuddle her will also help.
While your child is going through this phase, prohibit all scary movies or TV programs. If she starts watching these and she's already dealing with a fear, she may develop a whole new category of things that will frighten her.
Try not to pass on your fears to your child. If you are unreasonably anxious when you go to the dentist, have someone else take her in for her early dental checkups. Or at the very least talk to the dentist and arrange that you stay in the waiting room and let a staff member take her in to see the dentist. If the dentist does not understand your concern, you probably need a new one. Most dentists understand people's fears of dental work.
Of course, some things you can't avoid. If you are frightened around dogs, try to stay calm and stand your ground. Knowing that you are helping your child avoid your fear will be great motivation to stay cool.
If she overcomes a fear, notice it but don't push her until she is ready. When she vanquishes the monster in the closet, let out a great hurrah and let her know that she did a good job dealing with this very real problem.
Be creative when helping him come up with solutions to his fears. Take a page from the show The King and I and teach her to sing or whistle. The song Whistle a Happy Tune can be a great stress reducer and it's fun to sing.
Kathy Lynn is a professional speaker and author of Who's In Charge Anyway? and But Nobody Told Me I'd Ever Have to Leave Home. If you want to read more, sign up for her informational newsletter at parentingtoday.ca.