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Toddler - Week #85

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Your 20-month-old toddler (week 85)

By Shelley Feldman, edHelperBaby

Common Fears and Phobias
           You are now entering the age when childhood fears become paramount, and your little one's separation and stranger anxieties will now be transforming into something new.  Your 20-month-old may suddenly become frightened of things that have been everyday fixtures in his life for the past 20 months, as the friendly neighborhood dogs begin to elicit shrieks of terror, and your toddler resorts to hanging from the chandelier in order to avoid the bath tub.  Let me be the first to welcome you to the next "challenging" stage of your toddler's life.

       The most common triggers for your ultra-sensitive little one this month are things that move suddenly, or make loud noises.  Particularly, fire sirens, alarm clocks, vacuums, blow dryers, public toilets, barking dogs, shadows on the walls, creaking staircases, animals, the dark, people in costumes, children in masks...you name it, he'll fear it, so expect the flood-gates to open anywhere and at anytime.  You may even witness increasing nerves emerging as you read a pop-up book, and the pop-up pages "pop-up" just a little too much.  Also, many children this age suddenly develop a fear of the bath, whether he is frightened of getting soap in his eyes, or of mysteriously being sucked down the drain.

       Bedtime may also become a sensitive time of the day for your little sleeping beauty, especially when he is removed from all of the people who have protected him and made him feel safe throughout the day.  Unfortunately, the separation that occurs during bedtime may continue to evoke new and more complicated fears over the next few months, so once again, prepare your coffee pot to work over-time in the morning.

       The fears emerging from your toddler now are intense reactions to some type of object or situation which develop when he can't fathom how and why things happen.  More or less, just like adults, toddlers become frightened of what they do not understand.

       Most likely, your little one will outgrow most of his fears as he gains greater control over his environment.  But as for now, his fears are very common feelings experienced by all children, and the triggers which set him off today will morph into new and "interesting" things as the years go by.

       Keep in mind that a healthy amount of fear can have a positive impact on your little one, as it may reduce the amount of troublesome situations that he may land in.  Just the right amount of fear can set off an alarm in your toddler's little head that will gradually cause him to pause before putting himself in a dangerous situation.


Where Do These Fears Come From?
           Many amazing developmental stages are experienced between the ages of 18 and 20 months. Facing all of these new challenges appears to transform your little one into her own little spunky person over night, but these changes also become the root cause of the shift in type of, and increase in the amount of fears.

       The more your little one begins to comprehend, the more complex her thought process becomes, and in turn the more fearful she may be.  Becoming more mobile over the past few months has also allowed her to stumble into situations which she may have been sheltered from, or unaware of in the past.  Furthermore, because she is now realizing how much smaller she is than most people around her, she may become frightened of her surrounding environment, and particularly of her inability to control it.

       At this young age, your toddler is able to understand cause-and-effect, however she isn't able to understand what a realistic fear is and what it is not.  For example, if she so innocently tosses her toy car down the toilet and watches it get sucked down, your little na´ve angel may think, "If that car can get sucked down, can I get sucked down into the depths of the potty too?"  This is only the beginning of the unrealistic thought processes which will now occur, and as her imagination grows you can expect her fears to become more and more "creative" as well.

       Toddlers at this age also generalize almost everything, and if your toddler has had one negative experience, she may believe that interactions had with the same or similar objects are bound to result in the same tragic ending.  So, thanks in part to her newly improved memory, she is now able to remember frightening experiences longer.  She is also like a sponge right now taking on the emotions of everyone around, so if a sibling is frightened, your little one may also become frightened although she may not have a clue regarding the source of her feelings.

       To sum it up, most of your little one's newly discovered fears surround a belief that she may get hurt in one way or another.  Children this age don't realize that their fears may be irrational, and it makes sense that she should be afraid of things that upon first glace appear scary, although they may not truly be.  Someday your toddler will be able to recognize the potential consequences of certain actions, and easily avoid them without shrieking or breaking out the crocodile tears, but for now she's just a little guppy in a very large and frightening pond.


How do I help to reduce my child's fears?
           Ignoring your toddler's fears may actually increase them, so acknowledge they really exist, although according to you they may be completely irrational.  Try not to laugh at or belittle your child's fears, because as you know already children are very sensitive at this young age.

       Try your best not to make your little one face things that she is frightened of, and support her when she is exposed to them.   If you do need to approach potentially fearful situations, make sure to do it together, hold her hand and don't let go...until she's ready.

       Teach your child to cope with her fears by setting a positive example...if you appear fearful, your little one will most likely follow suit.  Keep your own fears and anxieties under wraps, as she will always look to you to see how realistic her perceived threats are, and your toddler needs to see you calm and confident.

       If bedtime is proving to be a challenge, provide her with a comfort object or lovey.  Try and give her a little time to comfort herself at bedtime before you rush to the rescue, and keep a nightlight in her room to scare away the shadows on the walls.  Also, try your best to limit your little one's exposure to scary movies, frightening books, and spooky television shows.

  Lastly, if it is at all possible to avoid startling things, do so until she better understands them and is able to figure them out.  Your 20-month-old will gradually master her fears by exploring the world and hearing your reassurances, so for now try and do your best to see things from her point-of -view.  Keep in mind that fears are temporary, and a normal part of childhood, and when she does make progress, praise every little step along the way...but, do expect to go backwards at times.



       This is a fun, yet very simple activity.  Use a marker to trace your foot and then color it all in.  When you are done getting creative, make as many copies of your foot as you think you may need, and place them in a trail all over your house.  Make your trail as simple or complicated as you believe your toddler can follow, and be sure to put a few basic obstacles (pillows and boxes) in the way for her to climb over and through.  But, be sure not to place anything along her journey that may be too distracting and cause her to lose focus on the task at hand.

       After setting the path, take your little one by the hand and go on a trial run before she is left to her own devices.  Like many activities for this age group, you may have to guide your toddler through this exercise a few times, before she is able to complete it on her own.  When she is able to follow the footprints all the way to the end of the trail, be sure to leave something special on the finish line for a job well done, like her favorite snack or toy.

       This is also a great activity to do before bedtime, but allow the path of footprints to lead her to various destinations completing her nighttime rituals.


  Andrew and Devin's Opinion
           While my 20-month-old twins were taking their beloved afternoon nap, I prepared for this activity.  Over the past few months I have quickly learned that the best time to get Andrew and Devin to focus on anything, is directly after naptime, as I have to grab their attention before they have a chance to wind each other up all over again.

       I was feeling daring on this particular day, and made 50 copies of my footprint, and forged a path throughout my house.  I started in the living room, ventured on top of the couch, then down the hallway, into the kitchen and back around again.  At various spots along my journey I placed a few pillows to climb over, and large boxes to climb through.  Proud of my completed expedition, I then waited for the wake-up call from the boys' room which was soon to follow.

       After Andrew and Devin awoke from a much needed nap, I led them to the living room and pointed out the footprints on the floor.  I then held both of their hands, described what we were about to do, and began the day's adventure.  Initially, the boys were not too keen on the idea of following directions, but with a little knowledge (okay, bribery) about Goldfish crackers and juice waiting at the end, they become quickly compliant.

       It was fun to watch the boys' excitement as they came upon each footprint, and although it did take some coaxing to keep them moving, it was well worth the effort.  I'm not sure that they would be able to follow the path to the end without my involvement and encouragement, however I will absolutely try this again during their bedtime routine tonight (and include my 4-year-old son in on the fun as well).  The best part of trying this activity at bedtime is that then I will be the one who will reap the benefits of the treasure at the end of the journey...three sleeping boys.


  Have you begun to wonder...
           How do I help my 20-month-old cope with his fear of the doctor?       

       As your toddler grows older, his ability to remember what happens at the doctor improves.  Thoughts of having to put himself in an uncomfortable situation at the doctor's office may be frightening, particularly if he has received shots, visited due to a painful ear infection, or was startled by a cold stethoscope in the past.

       Helping your toddler to understand what to expect during the doctor visit will cause him to feel more in control of the situation when he gets there. You can help your little one cope by reading simple stories about the doctor prior to his visit, and on occasion bring up his doctor's name and reinforce how kind he or she is.  Possibly purchase a toy doctor kit, and encourage him to play doctor showing him the different instruments and how they are used.  You may even want to take the toy kit with you on your visit so he can pretend right along with the doctor.

       Try and avoid making doctor appointments that coincide with naptime or interfere with mealtime, and ask the office staff which day of the week appears to be the slowest so you will not feel rushed.  Also, be sure to comfort your little one during the visit, and bring along her lovey or other favorite stuffed "support system" as back-up.

       Finally, make sure that if you have your own fears of the doctor, they don't spill over onto your child during his visit.  Remember, your toddler's attitude towards the doctor will greatly depend upon yours.  However, despite all of the preparation and desensitizing that you may do beforehand, your visit may still end up being a traumatic experience (for all involved), so just help him to plunder through as best he can.


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