Your child comes running over to you and stands behind your legs. Or he suddenly starts to cry and you can't figure out what happened. Once your baby starts interacting more with the world, he may go through fearful periods. Previously, your baby cried if he was hungry, tired, or missed you. Now, however, he is far more aware of the outside world, and while it is often thrilling, it is sometimes overwhelming as well.
It is never okay to dismiss a child's fears or tease him about them. If feelings aren't acknowledged, validated, and resolved, then they show up in other ways later on. Always take the time to help your child with his feelings. It is only in this way that he'll feel happy and whole inside. Try following this routine. First, acknowledge that you understand your child's feelings: “I see that you are afraid.” Next, share your feelings: “I don't see anything to be afraid of.” Finally, reassure him that everything will be all right: “But I want to keep you safe.”
As a grownup, you can put everything you see and hear into context — you know what your world is supposed to look and sound like. Children are still meeting the world, and it's up to you to let them know they are safe.
Fortunately for children, most adults understand why the dark is scary: When you can't see what's out there, your imagination tends to fill in the blanks. Luckily, it's easy to reassure your child that there is nothing in the dark that isn't there in the light.
One of the most effective and fun ways to do this is to go on a search for monsters (or whatever your child is afraid of) using a flashlight. Open boxes and closet doors, look under beds, and search behind toys. Showing your child that she is safe, rather than just telling her, will help her see the truth. It will also help her feel more capable of dealing with her fear because she will be involved in reassuring herself.
One of the best ways to help deal with a child's fear of monsters is to read about them. Three great books for young children about monsters are Go Away, Big Green Monster, by Ed Emberley; Leonardo the Terrible Monster, by Mo Willems; and My Monster Momma Loves Me So, by Laura Leuck.
If your child is still afraid, you can offer her a stuffed animal or toy to hold onto, but do all you can to have her sleep in her room. Do not bring her into your room because she's afraid. If you do this, she may feel that you, too, believe there is something to be afraid of.
While some parents sleep with their children, it's important to make sure this doesn't become a habit mired in your child's feelings of fear. In other words, sleeping together needs to be separate from fears or worries. If you can communicate to your child that she is safe in the house no matter where you are, then she will feel more secure in general. Your confidence ends her fear.
One-year-olds are in the process of slowly developing an awareness that their bodies and the needs of their bodies are separate from you, as well as from others. Previously, their food supply and the comfort you gave them was almost immediately available. Now, as your child develops more independence, he'll suddenly find himself across the room from you, his source of all things good. Just as you're enjoying watching him display his confidence in his ability to walk away from you, you'll suddenly see him look up in a panic as he realizes you are farther away than usual.
The combination of short-term memory, newfound independence, and fear of losing you can create interesting moments of confidence and worry in a one-year-old. He'll run a few feet from you, play, then look up and start to cry. And all of this will happen in a minute. It's confusing for him and can be confusing for you.
Your child may not know why he's afraid, but you shouldn't be afraid of taking a guess. Saying, “Are you afraid because you didn't know where I was?” will not put ideas in his head. Quite the opposite is true; he'll feel calmer because he knows you understand and are helping him understand his feelings for himself.
“It's okay. I'm right here,” you'll say to your suddenly hysterical baby, which will reassure him because he can see you and come over to you. But this same fear may repeat itself a few hours later when you put him to bed and he starts to panic because he sees you walking away. This fear is different than a fear of the dark, although he may not be able to communicate that.
As you do to ease other fears, such as a fear of the dark, you might need to walk your child through the process of separation. In other words, show him where you are and explain that you don't leave or go away when he's asleep. You might even reassure him that you check on him when he's sleeping. Explain that you sleep at night, too, but that you can hear him and that you feel safe.
Remember that these experiences feel new to your child. He may have been sleeping soundly for the past year without a worry, but now he's suddenly conscious of what's happening, and it is this awareness that causes his fear. While it may feel surprising that he's suddenly afraid, remind yourself that it is a sign of his growing understanding of his independence.
In the case of animals, a little fear is a mighty good thing. Teaching your child to be cautious around animals and to treat them with a healthy level of respect can help keep her safe from bites. Show your child how to introduce herself to a dog or cat by displaying her hand, palm up, and not looking into the animal's eyes directly.
If a dog runs over to your child, be sure to pick her up; you don't know how the dog behaves around small children. Explain to your child that you aren't afraid of dogs, but that you want to be careful since you don't know this one. Then, once you've determined that the dog is child-friendly (by asking the owner, not by your own instinct), you can use this as another opportunity to show your child how to be friends with an animal.
Cats are also capable of scratching a child who approaches it too quickly, so walk over to a kitty and show your child how you approach one — quietly and also with your hand out. It is also important to teach young children how to pet animals nicely. You can calmly pet a dog or cat together so that you can show your child how to be gentle.