advice

monsters, mice and meanies:
understanding your toddler’s fears and worries

overcoming your childs fears and worries

A lively imagination is a wonderful thing. But sometimes a child’s imagination can lead to them worrying something bad might happen. Luckily there are things you can do to help your child to cope with their fears.


real life worries

It can be frightening for a child when they start to compare their life with that of a friend, or fictional character. 'If Julie’s mum has died, mine might too.' 'My friend’s dad doesn’t live with them anymore. Maybe mine will leave too.' It’s certainly tempting to try to avoid talking about difficult situations with your toddler. But sometimes, talking is the only way to reassure them.

new situations

Children often feel anxious about new situations, such as starting nursery or moving house. Try to talk through what’s going to happen in detail, so that they can feel prepared. You could cuddle up and read topical books together, then chat about what’s happening to the character. Ask your child exactly what’s worrying them and see if you can work out some ways to help.

things that go bump in the night

Monsters in the cupboard, snakes under the bed… Your child’s fears may seem irrational to you, but it doesn’t make them any less real for them. You know there’s no such thing as three-eyed dragons, but it’s not always easy for your toddler to believe that. They may have never seen an elephant, but they know they’re real. And if elephants are real, why not monsters too?

when they won’t tell you what’s wrong

Sometimes your toddler won’t really know what’s bothering them. Or they might not want to tell you. You might only know something’s going on because your child is behaving differently. They might keep getting tearful or shouty for what seems like no real reason. Some children start having bad dreams, or wetting the bed.

getting to the bottom of it

It isn’t always easy to get to the bottom of what’s really wrong, but persevere. Try not to keep badgering your child though. Instead, choose a time to talk when they’re feeling happy and relaxed. Ask questions like, 'I had a lovely time in the park today. What was the best thing about your day?' 'What was the worst?' 'What made you happy?' 'What made you sad?' Try to make it a conversation, rather than an interrogation.

taking your child’s fears seriously

Your child will want to know that you understand their fears, and that you can help. So don’t call your child a baby or laugh at them. And don’t tell them that no one else is scared. It won’t make them feel any less afraid, but it could make them less likely to tell you the next time something is bothering them. On the other hand, you need to make it clear that you’re not scared of the thing that’s worrying them. You know the bad thing isn’t going to happen.

helping your child through their fears

Paul Stallard is Professor of Child and Family Mental Health at the University of Bath. He recommends focusing on 'exploring solutions with your child, instead of just rehearsing their worries and talking about all the things that could go wrong. Acknowledge your child’s worries, but then help them plan ways to cope with them.'

taking the fear away

We know you want to take away whatever’s bothering your child. In some cases, that can really help – like a night light if they’re scared of the dark. But sometimes you need to get your child to see that whatever is terrifying them really isn’t that bad.