Conquering irrational fears in toddlers

As children make the transition from babyhood to toddlerhood, irrational fears become common. Many a two-year-old has worried about loud noises from the toilet or getting sucked down the bathtub drain-- and nearly every home with a toddler seems to be inhabited by monsters and under every bed. My own daughter started developing irrational fears and anxieties around her second birthday, and they didn't totally subside until age three. Toddlers' irrational fears are a part of normal development, and it's quite normal for some fears to persist into the preschool and school years.

If your toddler has developed irrational fears or anxieties, here are some points to consider.

1. This, too, shall pass. Very, very few adults are terrified of the sounds of passing cars or the idea of monsters in the closet. No matter how intense or persistent your toddlers' fears are, they will eventually subside. During this stage, make efforts to soothe your toddler's anxiety and to ease its impact on your family life, but don't fret too much. Understand that it will get better in time, and that the days of tearful fears of the dark will one day be a sweet, amusing memory.

2. Remember that irrational fears are part of normal toddler psychology and development.

A toddler can understand the emotion of fear. He knows, for example, to be afraid of things that might hurt him or make him feel sad. However, he doesn't have a logical understanding of what does and does not pose a real danger. For example, in "Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care," Dr. Benjamin Needlman notes that young children lack an understanding of relative size or space, so they often believe they can get sucked down a bathtub drain or flushed down a toilet. These sorts of fears are normal as your child's developing brain works out concepts of logic and reason.

3. Irrational fears aren't your fault, but you can help to ease them. Toddlers who are exceptionally prone to intense, irrational fears may be coping with other emotions. Children with tumultuous family lives or traumatic events may manifest their other fears and anxieties in the form of imaginary monsters or ghosts. Try to reduce the amount of stress in your toddler's life in order to reduce the incidence and impact of irrational fears.

4. Talk to an expert if they are very severe or very persistent. In some cases, a toddler may present with irrational fears so intense, or so long-lasting, that they fall outside the normal range. For example, some toddlers may be so terrified of water that they have tantrums at the sight of running faucets, or will suffer from night terrors so severe that they wake up screaming several times per night. These problems should be mentioned to a pediatrician, who can give advice about handling these behaviors and easing a child's fears. In some cases, a toddler with severe anxiety may benefit from some form of therapy or relaxation exercise.

Although a toddler's irrational fears can be very difficult and upsetting to manage, most toddlers will outgrow them without any specific help. Continue to show your toddler unconditional love and support, and those monsters and ghosts will evaporate in time.