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Common Fears of Toddlers and Preschool Children

Fear of separation:

Toddlers’ anxiety about separation is an indication of growth. Before the toddler turned 2, they forgot when the parent left and settled down quickly. Now the child worries about and puzzles over the parent’s departure. Parents should always tell their child that they are leaving and not sneaking out which causes a decrease in trust. Parents should help get the child absorbed in an activity before they leave.  An elaborate ritual of waving bye-bye and blowing good-bye kisses also may help.

Preschoolers are more self‑assured than toddlers, but occasionally experience fears about being separated from a parent when starting a new school or child care arrangement, staying overnight with a relative, or moving to a new home. Ease into new situations gradually. Parents should visit the new school several times before the first day or stay with the child for the first day or two can make a big difference.

Fear of baths:

Many young children worry about going down the drain with the water. No amount of logical talk will change this. Avoid letting the water drain out while your child is still in the tub or even in the bathroom. If a child seems fearful of water, you might try letting them play first with a pan of water, then in the sink, and finally over the edge of the tub (don’t leave a child alone in the bathroom.

Fear of Dogs:

Dogs are often loud, fast moving, and unpredictable. Many children fear them. Respect the child’s fear of strange dogs; a child’s instincts may be right. If you wish to introduce it child to a friendly dog, first try sharing pictures of the dog with the child. Next watch the dog from a distance, and finally approach the dog together. You may want to demonstrate how to pet the dog, but don’t force a child to pet the dog, too. If they refuse, you can try again later.

Fear of Loud Noises

Although toddlers love to pound on toy drums but loud noise from a vacuum cleaner or a hair dryer may be very frightening. Even preschoolers can develop fear of loud noises. Try letting the child look at and eventually touch things in the home and school before you turn them on. If the fear seems intense, save “loud noise jobs” for times when your child is rested and in a good mood, or better yet, when he or she is not around.

Fear of the dark

Parents often sheepishly admit that their child sleeps with a night light (or the room light) on.  Children can sleep with lights on without damaging their health. Many children sleep with a night light well into the school‑age years. 

Fear of the dark is usually one of the last childhood fears to be conquered. Younger children fear monsters and snakes that lurk in the bedroom shadows. Older children may few burglars and thieves. It is not at all uncommon for children who are 10 and 11 to still use a night light.

For some children, a gradual reduction to turn lights off works for many families; others decide on their own to turn lights off.  It is important not to rush the child.

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