A Reader asked:
"Hi do you have suggestions for helping a toddler (2.5 yr old) deal with
anxiety? She's scared of insects & loud noises such as the smoke alarm & vacuum cleaner. She's also recently told me she's scared of santa. Her fears
seem to be increasing so I am growing concerned for her. Many thanks."
You are a conscious and thoughtful parent to see your child's distress and to seek help in healing it. I offer you a big hug and the warmest of smiles, because I can tell that you are fully Awake and Aware in your responsibilities as a mother.
Your 2.5 year old daughter is also fully conscious and aware of her feelings and needs. She has shown you that she is afraid of certain situations or things or sounds or people. She has shown YOU her fears because she trusts you to protect her and to create a safe environment for her so that she can get on with the important business of her life: exploring, learning, discovering, playing, growing and maturing.
As much as is possible, avoid situations that bring out your child's fears and anxiety. Hold her trust in you as a sacred privilege and don't ask her to do what she is telling you she is not yet capable of handling. She is doing the best that she can do already, based on her knowledge and experience of the world.
When she is in an unavoidable situation where she is demonstrating her anxiety, respect her authenticity by doing whatever she asks: leaving the place or holding her or shielding her from unwanted attention. Tell her, "Yes, I can see you are scared. Mommy will stay with you." Validate without adding drama. Empathize and empower. Do not try to talk her out of her fear or ask her to engage in an activity she is scared of. She will learn to trust her instincts when you honour her feelings and her trust in you will deepen also.
Are you worried that she will never get over her fears or that her fears are unreasonable?
Let me share something personal: I have been afraid of frogs ever since I accidentally stepped on one when I was about 7 years old. I understand that they cannot hurt me, yet if someone brought one into the room this instant I would run away and hide behind a locked door. Now imagine if the person who loves me the most in this world decided without my permission that he was going to teach me to get over my fear by regularly exposing me to frogs. Would I get over my fear? Maybe eventually I would. But I would also develop a resentful attitude toward the person who did not respect my fears and who wanted to impose his own agenda on me. I would no longer trust him to accept and love my authentic self.
Similarly, there is no reason to try to 'train' your child out of her fears, unless you want her to develop a mistrust of you or her other caregivers. Most childhood fears will naturally dissipate as the child matures. The fears that persist deserve to be respected and honoured. Your relationship with your daughter is bigger and more lasting than her fears.
Offer yourself the enormous love and respect that you deserve for caring so much about your daughter. Release your own anxiety about her fears and let yourself fall into a deep, deep trust of her and all that she communicates to you. You are her role model and she is your mirror--when your anxiety disappears, so will hers.
For Freedom and Joy,