Scared Toddler

Dear Miss Faith, My question is about my 23 month old and how lately she seems to be spooked by a lot of different things. We have recently welcomed a new baby to the house, but overall she’s really done well with the baby. So I’m not sure if this recent behaviour is because of our 3 month olds arrival, an age related thing or if its just her. Things that make noise seem the worst, people dressed up as big shapes or even cartoon characters, dogs (even though we have a large dog who she is fine with) all seem to scare her, and she will start shaking her head saying no no no and then cling to me and start crying. Sometimes she clings on to me so hard, she just seems so scared. Its strange a lot of these things such as noises and animals she has grown up with and has always been fine with until recently. I’m not sure how to help her get through this.

Dear Mama,

Thanks for writing! That sounds like a really hard situation, for you and for your little girl! Kids often go through a very clingy stage around 19-23 months, as they go through a spiritual awakening. See an article that I wrote to another mom about her little girl being suddenly very “shy” around this age:/2011/05/shy-toddlers/
The question for your daughter is, how can you let her know that things might not actually be as scary as they feel. I think that sometimes when we reassure them and say, “It’s OK, it’s OK, I won’t let anything hurt you,” it makes them feel even more powerless, like there’s something really dangerous. On the other hand, trying to tell them that there’s nothing to be scared of often feels invalidating.
I think one of the ways we can help kids normalize things is to ‘play’ them. In order for her to feel big and strong, why don’t you play that YOU’RE scared of things, and go to HER for comfort. Ham it up and make it funny. First be scared of things that she’s not scared of, then be scared of things that she’s a little bit scared of. She may find that being able to be the strong one will help her.
Another thing you can do is sing. I do this with kids all the time, when they’re scared of bugs, of thunder, of the wind, of whatever. One woman observed me and she said, “It’s like you’re saying, ‘that’s so normal, there’s even a song about it!'” For bugs I’ll sing ‘the ants go marching one by one,’ for wind I’ll say, “Who has seen the wind? Neither you nor I. But when the leaves are trembling, the wind is passing by.” Etc. Etc. If a loud noise happens that startles the kids, sometimes we’ll make loud noises of our own: we’ll jump and stomp as loud as we can, and try and decide if that’s louder than the sound we heard that scared us.
And finally, you can tell a story about how when you were a little girl, you were really scared of the vacuum, and every time your mom turned it on, you’d cry and cry (rub your eyes, “Boo-hoo-hoo, boo-hoo-hoo”). Each time your mother would say, “There’s nothing to be scared of! Will you push it with me?” and you was say “No, no, no!” (shake your head emphatically). Then, the next day my mom would turn it on again. (repeat the sequence.) Then finally one day she turned it on and you reached out and touched it with one finger (reach out and touch something, then pull your hand back really fast). It was still loud, but nothing happened! The next day, you touched it with two fingers! It was still loud, but nothing happened. The third day, your mother turned it on and you helped her push it through the whole house. It was still loud, but you weren’t scared at all. And from that day forward, even though the vacuum was still loud, you didn’t cry anymore.
A story like this is good because it lets her know that you understand, and it shows her how she might progress through this fear. And of course, give her lots of love and attention when she’s NOT being scared, as well. Notice when she’s brave, when you’re being brave, try out things that might be scary together and then be excited when you’re not scared, etc.
Warmly, ~Miss Faith
I love your comments! Please post below.


  1. Mummy to two says

    Thankyou so much for your advice. They are great ideas to try help her through this that i had not thought of. I especially like the suggestion about making load noises. She loves stomping and jumping, so i will try that if something loud scares her. And she loves role playing so i will try as you suggested find some things to be scared of that shes not, and she can help me not be scared 🙂 Maybe even try the same idea with her teddys.
    I did also have a look at your shy toddler article, and i think some of that advice helps too. So i will keep up with these ideas and hopefully it will help her. As i said shes usually such a happy on the go toddler, so its heartbreaking when all of a sudden something can upset her so much…

    Thankyou again!

    • I know how nice it feels to have more ‘tricks in your bag,’ so I’m glad these are new ideas for you. It’s always hard to write advice for a child that I don’t actually know, so things don’t always work the first time around, so give these a try and if they don’t work, don’t feel shy about writing again. That’s part of why I try to always give two or three different ideas, so that even if they’re not spot-on, they at least get your creative juices flowing around this situation that has been hard for you guys.

  2. You love our comments… I LOVE your posts!! Each one of them is filled with so. much. good. stuff. It’s embarrassing that I have to be reminded to play, use imagination, and be silly with my child… but I do. And when I do, magic happens! Thank you again and again for rejuvenating this special time with my little one by equipping me for BOTH of us to have a good time. I send your links out to friends all the time, and they all agree that you are amazing and one of a kind. (Where did you learn all of the songs and rhymes you use??)

    • Yay! Thanks, Karis!

      I learned lots of my songs from the two song books “Sing A Song With Baby” and “This Is the Way We Wash-A-Day” both by Mary Thiennes Schunnemann of Naturally You Can Sing. You can find links to buy her books by clicking on the tab “Resources” at the top of my website, and then “Song Books w/ CD’s.” Mary was my singing teacher when I took the LifeWays training in Wisconsin. She has since passed away, but her work lives on through the hundreds of families and teachers who sing her songs. I get lots of my rhymes from kids’ poetry books: Mother Goose, etc.

      The LifeWays training itself is another wonderful resource for learning songs and rhymes, getting new ideas, and finding new ways to view what’s going on with your child. They have trainings in 8 locations around the US and Canada, so check out their website (find the link on my website again under “Resources”). Several of the trainings start in October.

      Finally, the new, third edition of my mom’s book “You Are Your Child’s First Teacher” has just hit the shelves. She doesn’t give lots of songs or rhymes, but she is a wonderful resource for parents. You can find her book on Amazon or in book stores.

      This was a lot longer than I thought it would be when I started this response, lol! Check them all out.

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