Fears in Toddlers

Dr. Ram, Meriter Middleton

Dr. Ram, Meriter Pediatrics

I was recently asked about a toddler who was afraid of her own shadow. Fears are common in toddlers, so I have included my response on our blog.

Developmentally, toddlers are becoming much more aware of what is around them and becaue of this, parts of everyday life that they didn’t notice before can become terrifying. In addition, toddlers are starting to develop a wonderful sense of imagination. They often struggle to distinguish between what is real and make-believe and they are still learning the concept of cause and effect. As a result, fears are quite common and normal in the toddler and preschool years. They become abnormal only if they develop into persistent and irrational fears that interfere with the child’s normal activities. Some common fears in toddlers include fear of being separated from their parents, the vacuum cleaner or other loud noises, the bathroom drain, the dark, and yes … even their own shadow.

For most common toddler fears, it is gentle reassurance and basic, truthful information that most successfully assuages a toddler’s anxiety. For example, if he or she is afraid of shadows, don’t bend over backward to avoid going outside. Make sure you acknowledge your toddler’s fear by mirroring their emotions, e.g. “the shadow is scary for you.” In the case of shadows, expose him/her slowly to what he/she fears; some contact with what shadows (in a controlled setting with you right next to him/her or holding her while providing lots of reassurance will probably help). Gradually increase his/her exposure to shadows. Talk about the shadows in simple terms. Read books about shadows. You could do puppet shows on the wall. Silliness often helps. For example, you could make your shadows do silly dances. As she starts feeling more comfortable, you could play a game of “shadow tag” trying to “tag” each others shadows.

Chances are that once you have acknowledged your toddler’s fear and once your toddler senses that you are not afraid, they will follow suit.

Dr. Sumita Ram
Meriter Pediatrics
2275 Deming Way, Suite 220
Middleton, WI 53562

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