Screams in the night
Nightmares and fears are common in toddlers as their imaginations develop.
Toddlers go through a lot of new experiences and feelings daily that it could sometimes become too confusing or scary. And just like you, they sometimes work these experiences out through their dreams.
To such small children, fantasy and reality are the same thing, which also can increase bad dreams and nightmares.

Major changes in your toddler or your family’s life can also be the cause of nightmares – it could be events like:
Starting nursery school or going to a new school
  • Moving home
  • One of parents starting a new job with different hours
  • A few nights away from his parents
  • Another baby in the house.

When you hear the screams
  • Get to your toddler as fast as you can. Leaving him to calm down by himself is likely to have the opposite effect.
  • Don’t switch on the lights, take him out of his bed or speak in a concerned or loud voice – this will just upset him further.
  • Just sit with him on his bed, comfort him and he will very quickly fall asleep again and will probably not remember anything the next day.
  • If you know what is causing the nightmares (like major changes in your life) it can help to talk to him the next day about this and explain the changes in a positive light and reassure him.
  • You might think that your toddler is too small to understand a serious conversation, but he does.
  • If your toddler’s nightmares persist and become more frequent it could be something at school or daycare which is bothering him and which needs closer investigation by you.

Daytime fears

Many toddlers develop fears at some point which go away with time. Once they realize they situation is not the threat they feared it was, they will usually outgrow their fears.

Some common fears:

  • To sit on a toilet
  • Have a bath or swim
  • Animals and insects
  • Noises

Your toddler is understanding more about the things around him and starting to grasp the concept of cause and effect. However his experience of things is still too limited to sort out all the possibilities for each situation. For example, if the water flushes paper down the toilet isn’t it possible that I could be flushed away too?

To help soothe fears
Acknowledge the fear as real and try to find the source (scary books or cartoons can be culprits).
When talking about fears with your toddler use stories to discuss the fear.
Beware of overemphasising the fear because that could lead to the discovery that expressing fear is a reliable route to parental attention.
Make sure you are not responsible for the fear. Sometimes fear in toddlers is triggered by repeated parental warning. Be aware of your own fears and find ways of dealing with them.

Has your toddler shown any specific fears? How did you cope with them?

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