8 Toddler Fears and How You Can Help Your Child Overcome Them

While toddlers can be friendly and exuberant, they can also exhibit a few irrational fears. Here’s how to handle them.

By Mina Dilip

8 Toddler Fears and How You Can Help Your Child Overcome Them

“I won’t go potty,” is a constant refrain by 3-year-old Amrit (name changed). Two-year-old Meeta (name changed) is so scared that she shudders at the slightest sound. Sounds familiar?

Makes you wonder about the things that can scare toddlers?

Well, their vivid imagination can make toddlers turn even tiny bugs into monsters and feel scared. If your toddler too has created a few monsters for himself and feels scared, here’s what you should do.

Here is a list of 8 common toddler fears:

1. Fear of separation

Every toddler is anxious of being separated from her parents. This condition, also known as 'separation anxiety', involves an excessive display of fear and distress when separated from parents even for brief periods. And, the situation worsens if parents sneak out when the little one is not looking. It reinforces the child’s anxiety and makes her to cling on more to the parents.

What you can do:

A good way to handle separation is to ensure that you bid goodbye to your little one, keep it short and reassure her that you will be back. Some experts also believe it is helpful to have a goodbye routine that involves the child beginning some interesting activity with the secondary caregiver to make the transition easier.

2. Fear of doing the 'big job'

Toddlers fear falling into the toilet and getting flushed down. This is called 'potty panic'. It is one of the reasons why they begin to fuss about going to the bathroom. Also, when they have an uncomfortable or painful bowel movement because of constipation, they do not want to go through the routine again. This only leads to further constipation and makes them scared all the more. Sometimes, it may even be a simple case of embarrassment which leads to fear.

What you can do:

Familiarise your toddler gently with the bathroom routine through potty-training stories. Show him how the flush works; invite him to try it a couple of times for himself. You can also use a child-sized detachable potty seat or a step stool for him to rest his feet on. All these can help to alleviate his fears and reassure him.

3. Fear of ghosts and monsters

As your toddler grows, so does her imagination. She can see ghosts and monsters everywhere. The result? She is unwilling to go anywhere alone and tends to cling to you and becomes fearful.

What you can do:

Pretend play with your child using blankets and paper masks; but, make sure that the monster is always friendly or silly. This will help her get over her fears gradually.

4. Fear of strangers

You should educate toddlers about the dangers of talking to strangers. However, at times, what you have taught him about strangers can turn into a problem. Your toddler may not be able to differentiate between a stranger and your friends whom he is meeting for the first time. This can be embarrassing in social situations.

What you can do:

Acknowledge that you appreciate him for staying safe around strangers. Then, gently introduce him to the person you want him to meet. Keep it short, and try not to push him into becoming friendly. Allow him to take his time in warming up to those who are new to him.

5. Fear of darkness

Being afraid of the dark is very common among toddlers.

What you can do:

There are many creative ways in which you can help your toddler overcome his fear of darkness. She must know where the light switch is, so that she feels empowered to conquer the darkness with the flip of a switch at any time. In addition, she might learn to enjoy darkness through games like ‘dark room’, or an evening walk outdoors counting stars. This can develop in her a sense of wonder and an appreciation for darkness.

6. Fear of 'the large' and 'the loud'

Large, unwieldy objects and loud noises startle and frighten toddlers, especially the rattle of thunder.

What you can do:

If the situation is predictable, prepare your toddler in advance. For instance, before you switch on the vacuum cleaner, warn him that it is going to get noisy, and he can choose to cover his ears. When something happens suddenly startling your toddler into a crying fit, soothe him by acknowledging what happened. Never downplay his fears by saying, “Oh, that’s nothing,” or “It’s all right”, because to him, it is NOT all right. He needs to hear you say something like, “That is very big. I know you don’t like big things because they look scary… but you see… I’m here with you…”

7. Fear of injections

Injections intimidate toddlers. I am yet to find a toddler who likes injections. I have seen parents saying, “Oh, this won’t hurt at all. It’ll feel like a mosquito bite.” In reality, the shot stings like hell and the child starts bawling.

What you can do:

Don’t liken an injection to a mosquito bite. Instead, explain to your child why she needs to get the shot. Tell her honestly that it will hurt, but also that it needs to be done. When she has gone through with the experience, acknowledge her pain. Let her know how proud you are of her.


8. Fear of doing certain tasks

Parents often complain that their young child refuses to get on a swing or use the slide in the playground. New physical activities that involve climbing or jumping can cause fear in young minds.

What you can do:

Validate your child’s fear, and try to give him the time and space he needs to adapt. Instead of feeling frustrated and comparing him to other children on the playground, try to reflect his feelings by saying something like, “You are worried about climbing on that; I understand… now, mamma’ll help you…” When your child senses your patience and understanding, he will overcome his fear sooner or later.

As a parent, be aware that being afraid is not necessarily a bad thing. Fear is one of the most primitive survival mechanisms that has kept the human race alive. So if your child seems a little more sensitive than others, it is fine. Try to be patient and accommodative. In due course of time, with your support and encouragement, your child will learn to overcome these fears and scale new heights. 



Mina Dilip, Child Psychologist, Trainee Practitioner in Therapeutic Play Skills (PTUK)