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By the age of two, most children begin to suddenly display fears of various things and situations. These fears usually make no sense whatsoever to the parent. Some of the more common childhood fears include, dogs, becoming lost, being alone, loud noises, "monsters" lurking under the bed or in the closet, bathtub drains, and being in the dark.  

Let's look at some of these common fears and what it is that is probably causing them. Then I will present some strategies on how you can deal with them more effectively.
To begin with, remember that by this age, children have had the chance to experience pain, being injured, and feeling alone or lost. Young children have very active and vivid imaginations. They are also just beginning to understand and struggle with the idea of cause and effect.  

Fear of the Dark:  This is usually the one fear that may last well into the school age years. Many parents will admit that their 10 or 11 year old child still sleeps with a night light on. To a child, the dark shadows provide many places for snakes or undefined monsters to hide. As the child gets older, TV programming or careless parental discussions can change these fears into fears of burglars and thieves.  

Children usually get over this fear by themselves. You should know that sleeping with the lights on will do no harm to the health of your child. Putting a light on a dimmer switch and gradually turning it down over time is one of the more popular methods that seem to work well.

Fears of Baths:  Imagine this from a child's point of view and limited knowledge. Water and other things are sucked down that drain. Maybe I can be sucked down into those dark pipes too! This can be a very real fear and sometimes no amount of reassurance from you will help the situation.  

A good approach is to initially avoid draining the tub when the child is in the tub. Later when the child is more comfortable, ask – and then let the child help drain the tub. You can also let the child bathe a waterproof toy in a sink – and let them drain the water themselves. This fear usually goes away as the child gets older.

Fear of Dogs:  Dogs move rapidly and are usually unpredictable in their movements. They can also be very loud. Remember that a healthy respect for a strange dog is a good thing and may prevent a tragedy later. If you want to have your child pet a particular dog start with showing the child pictures of dogs. Then watch the dog from a distance and finally approach the dog together. If the child resists – don't force the issue. Also be sure that the child sees you first ask the dog owner for permission to pet the animal.

Separation Anxiety: Separation anxiety is actually a good indicator that your child is growing up! Before the age of two, a child quickly forgets that you are gone and seldom wonders why you left. Later the child wonders why you left - and if you will be coming back.  

Be sure and always tell your child when you are leaving. Never let them discover that you are gone on their own. Sneaking out will only increase their anxiety. Making a big deal out of blowing kisses and waving goodbye can also be helpful.

General Guidelines:  

-*Avoid Lectures:*    Ridicule or logic will only make matters worse. Statements like, "There is no such thing as a monster!", or "Don't be such a baby!" will not help your child learn to cope with theses situations. Remember that the fears are very real for the child.

-*Accept your Child's Fears as Real:*   Keep a matter-of-fact attitude and support your child when they are really frightened. You can be reassuring – just don't expect the child to believe everything you are saying.

-*Help Teach the Child How to Cope:*   Keeping a flashlight by the bed when the lights are out – learning how to take deep breaths – all can be helpful mechanisms to help you child cope. Reading appropriate children's books about children encountering and conquering scary situations can also be helpful. Be sure and read and pick these books carefully!  

-*Never Force the Child:*   The old "shock method" of forcing a young child into a fearful situation usually does not work and tends to make the fear more intense.

-*Remember That Some Fears Can Be Helpful:*   Fears of strange situations, strange dogs, and strangers can be useful and protective. You want your child to be cautious in these cases.

**James is a Masters level Child Psychologist and Internationally Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor who has worked with distressed families for 40 years. He is the author of the Seamus the Sheltie series of children's books that were designed to assist parents in discussing difficult issues with younger children. Both books have received multiple national awards from parenting organizations. Mr. Beverly has written and published articles on parenting in a variety of media.


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