Friday, July 1, 2011

Do Parents Create Fear in Toddlers?

toddlers and fear

Where does fear in toddlers come from? It's such an interesting question. Once upon a time, the Babby was very, very frightened of strangers. But I'm loathe to call that real fear, since it seems like such a beneficial response for a growing baby to have to an unfamiliar world. Like: I'm semi-mobile so time to rein in that curiosity just a little bit. What I'm talking about is the fear of things like monsters, train platforms, heights, and a whole list of things that don't exist but are scary OR do exist but aren't very scary at all OR do exist and can be scary but don't have to be scary.

Where do those toddler fears come from?

Why, for example, has the Babby expressed the idea that monsters are scary when thus far her main exposure to monsters has been the furry folks on Sesame Street who are into picnicking and playing games? And when my own teeth chatter when I'm asking the Babby to please not climb all the way to the top of the eight foot tall play structure at the beach, am I dooming her to inherit my own fear of heights? (Not that I'm going to let a two year old climb to the top of mount monkey bar, but still...) And here's another question: How can I avoid making the Babby afraid of the dark, as so many kids are?

Why am I asking these questions? Because I don't want to inadvertently instill groundless fears in the Babby. 

Or even fears that are grounded in reality but tend to keep people doing fun things - the example that comes to mind is climbing, which particularly indoors is basically safe but not at all enjoyable for someone like me who prefers having my feet on solid, sea level ground. Some other things I'm afraid of:

  • Spiders
  • Ghosts (even though I know there aren't any)
  • Water, as in "drowning in"
  • Fire
  • Airplanes
  • Jumping out of airplanes
  • Cold calling people
  • Playing sports
  • People hating my guts for no reason
  • Doing cartwheels

Super lame, no? Which is why I don't want to do anything that leads to the Babby missing out on opportunities because she is too scared. Meeting new people and trying new things have up until recently been kind of scary for yours truly, and I am 31 years old!

I guess what I'm looking for is some kind of middle ground that has me letting the Babby live dangerously in a controlled environment that does not inspire the more ridiculous fears (monsters, etc.) and does not foster an irresponsible attitude toward danger, but also allows the Babby to challenge herself. Now I just have to figure out where that middle ground lies! Any ideas? 


  1. I was planning to post on this very subject today as the boy child has been going through a whole set of new fears that sometimes boggle me and sometimes lead me to suspect it's my fault. Like the fear of the swim lesson in the big pool is my fault because the day he ran to the big pool and got in without any adult around him scared the crap out of me and I was screaming for someone to stop him and cried when I scooped him up from the lifeguard, etc. I told him it was scary for me that he got in there like that. So I think probably this is my fault.

    But his fear of ants and ladybugs boggles me. Any little black schmutz is a ladybug "Halp! Halp!" He has never expressed a fear of the dark, and I think that until something traumatic happens that involves the dark (like getting shut in a dark room/closet when you can't reach the light switch did for me) he most likely won't be. He's always slept in a dark room, so it's not something new to him.

    And he too has started trying to scare us by being a monster, which is funny since the monsters he's exposed to are Cookie monster, etc. And sometimes he even says "I Cookie Monster....roar!"

  2. The pool thing, who can blame you? I would have freaked, too. I think it's a rare parent who can keep it together in a situation like that - I know one. We were at the beach and her daughter faceplanted. She had to rush in fully clothes to pick her up and get her out. And she was just so calm and rational about it, I couldn't believe it. I would have been bawling.

    But the other stuff, who knows... the Babby was scared of ants for a little while until T. let one walk over his hand. She somehow has the idea that monsters *can* be scary but her main exposure to monsters has been the Sesame Street book The Monsters' Picnic. Def. not scary.

  3. One of the most helpful things I remember an adult doing to help me work through fear was to announce that they found X a little scary so "we're all going to take our time and walk through X, y and z".

    It also helped me eventually to differentiate between Real and Not-Real (I get freaked out at scary movies like whoa), and to remember basic proportions! "You're so much bigger than *small scary thing*! Imagine how afraid it is of you!"

  4. Wow, all great ideas, mkpheartsnyc! We've definitely worked on proportions with the Babby, but I don't even know if she has a basic handle on real versus not real considering that I'm pretty sure she thinks toys talk to her even when it's clear I am making the toy "talk". But something to keep in mind as she gets older!


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