Soothe your toddler's fears
The world can be a frightening place when you’re just starting out. Mums share their toddler’s biggest fears, and find out how to stop them
“That character is frightening”
“Kyle’s petrified of the mayor in CBeebies’ LazyTown,” says Katie Rumgay, 25, from Germany, mum to Kyle, 3.
“Whenever he sees him he starts crying, and wants lots of cuddles. He’s been having nightmares about him too, and wakes in the night convinced the mayor’s in his bed trying to tickle him. He’ll ask about 40 times a day whether the mayor’s in his room. “I have to check the TV guide to see when it’s on so we can avoid watching it. We’ve also tried rearranging his room and even got a new mattress, telling Kyle the mayor had gone with his old one. But my husband still has to go around his room showing him the mayor isn’t lurking anywhere.”
“It’s understandable that you think you’re helping by saying a character has gone, but it’s best not to make a big deal of this, as by explaining and rationalising you’re reinforcing the idea that they exist,” says Lyn Fry, child psychologist. “Don’t worry, however. Spend your next night by your toddler’s bedside and tell him firmly, ‘No more mayor’. If he starts talking about him, quickly change the subject, and if he persists and says you’re not listening to him, make eye contact and repeat, ‘No more mayor’ – eventually he should stop.”
“Mummy’s not coming back”
“I can’t even go to the loo without Jessica screaming the house down,” says Anmarie Duffy, 22, from Greater Manchester, mum to Jessica, 16 months.
“She usually ends up coming in with me. Having a shower is a nightmare, too – I have to put her in her cot and she screams until I come out. She even follows me around while her dad is at home. I’m not sure how to help – giving cuddles works but I can’t be by her side all the time.”
“At this age it’s perfectly normal for a child to get anxious when her mum leaves the room,” reassures Lyn. “Try to stick it out, as it only really becomes an issue if she’s still doing it when she’s 2. “In the meantime, I would make her feel really important and give lots of praise, especially if she shows signs of being independent. You can also try weaning her off you gradually, and you can do this by getting dad involved more – it might seem a thankless task at first but if she’s happy to be left with him too it will make things a lot easier on you.”
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“Water scares me”
“As soon as Aaron hears me running his bath he runs away and starts crying,” says Susan Lyon, 29, from Cheshire, mum to Aaron, 2.
“He’s absolutely petrified of getting in the bath, and when I eventually get him in there he clings to me and screams until I take him out. He won’t sit down, so I have to wash him really quickly – it’s really stressful. “We’ve tried putting non-slip mats in the tub so he feels more secure, as well as putting lots of toys in to encourage him, but he still hates it.”
“This is an extremely common fear in toddlers,” reassures Lyn. “To help him get over it try putting him in an empty bath, fully clothed, with lots of toys, and make it fun. Once he’s comfy with this, put him in the bath unclothed with a bucket of water next to him and put lots of toys in there. Just play at first, but after a while try washing him. “The next stage is to pour the bucket of water into the bath around him, always ensuring that you’re making it more about the playing as opposed to the washing. Gradually build the amount of water you use up and keep giving him lots of praise for being a clever and brave boy.”
“I’m afraid of the dark”
“Adam has developed a real fear of darkness,” says Carolyn Toogood, 38, from Derby, mum to Adam, nearly 3, and Jamie, 6 months.
“Bedtimes are really tough as he hates being left alone in the dark. He tells us he’s scared
of monsters and ghosts, so we do the whole checking under the bed and in the cupboards before tucking him up, but if he wakes in the night he’s convinced they’re there and will come running into our room. We’ve tried using a nightlight, as well as leaving the landing light on with the door open, and he still hates it. We’ve even gone as far as leaving his main bedroom light on while he’s falling asleep, but none of it has stopped him from being frightened.”
“It’s probably better to not check under the bed each night for monsters as this reinforces the idea that they could be there,” advises Lyn. “As you’ve already started doing this, however, do it one last time, saying firmly, ‘There are no monsters,’ and then don’t do it again. “To help him get over his fear, try sitting on the stairs together in a dim light. Show him you’re not scared and give him lots of reassurance, and praise him if he manages to do it. Once he can tolerate this for five minutes you can move on to sitting in a dark room together, and gradually build this up until he’s more comfortable with it.”
“I’m scared of new people”
“As soon as someone new tries to talk to Thomas he starts crying and clings to me,” says Debby Anderson, 33, from East Sussex, mum to Joe, 7, and Thomas, 3.
“If I have a friend round for coffee, or even our health visitor, he’ll hide in another room, start crying and will stay there until they’ve gone. He also gets distressed about people he’s met a few times before and is only comfortable with very close family that he sees pretty much on a daily basis. “I’ve always given him plenty of reassurance when we meet new people but he’s still terrified, so we’ve tried homeopathy – it helps a bit, but he soon regresses and goes back to being scared again. It’s really difficult as he’s a lovely little boy, but people are starting to give up speaking to him.”
“Try inviting one of his quiet friends over to play and see if your tot comes out of hiding when he sees you playing with him,” says Lyn. “Or try introducing him to animals – this may help him feel at ease with new situations. Although a fear of new people is common, if there’s no improvement and you feel he’s a bit isolated, it might be helpful to see a behavioural psychologist.”
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