Dr Richard C. Woolfson
Lots of toddlers go through a phase when they become afraid of small animals such as cats or dogs. They start to shriek, cry or run away as fast as they can when one’s approaching. To you, furry friends are cuddly and lovable. But to your child, they can seem very terrifying indeed.
Why so scared?
* Her imagination goes wild She can imagine anything about a small animal – as far as she is concerned, there are no limits to its powers and strengths. She can conjure up all sorts of dangers in her mind.
* She can’t tell fantasy from reality The power of her imagination results in a blurring of boundaries – and such thoughts can easily upset her.
* She feels powerless Your toddler knows that she cannot run away quickly enough to escape from a cat or dog if it chases after her.
* Her perspective is different When you’re less than a metre in height, small animals look big and larger animals look frightening. This makes your toddler think of dangers that don’t even cross your mind.
Get over it
* Treat her fear with respect True, her phobia may seem trivial, but it is very real to her. She does not behave this way just for fun. So don’t treat her like you think she’s silly.
* Reassure her She’s frightened because she genuinely believes she’s in danger. She needs you to reassure her that she will be safe. Keep saying this over and over again to her in a gentle tone. She gains emotional strength from your confidence in her. A sympathetic and supportive hand on your shoulder will also help.
* Set a positive example For instance, if she starts to cry and tries to hide behind you when a small, friendly dog approaches, keep her beside you and let her watch as you gently stroke the animal. Have a smile on your face as you do this. Suggest that she could stroke the animal, too – only if she wants to – and that she will be perfectly face.
* Discourage avoidance She will not learn to beat her fear is she is allowed to run away. On the contrary, that strategy will matters worse because she won’t have a chance to develop coping skills. She has to face her fear – with your backing – before she can overcome it.
* Persist with your support Keep working patiently, reassuring her and calming her whenever she becomes afraid. Accept that some children take longer than others to beat their fears, but that yours will overcome it eventually. She needs you to persist with your support until she has beaten it. She needs you to believe in her.
* Praise success With your help, she will eventually make progress, through this may be in very small stages, and a little step at a time. Show your delight when you see that she is more confident and less afraid than she was previously – this gives her further incentive to continue with her efforts.