Scared toddler lying in bed with toys and hiding his face

Anxieties and fears in toddlers

Do you remember what you were afraid of as a child? 

Can you recall asking your sibling to accompany you to the next room, covered in darkness? How often would your parents have to calm you down at a sight of a stranger in the park? 

We've been afraid of things since we were kids and are still afraid of various occurrences, animals, situations, etc. 

It's human nature to be scared of foreign things, and it serves a crucial purpose of protecting us from the unfamiliar. 

Children display natural fears suitable for their ages, which they later overcome. Some of them are reasonable, and some can get out of hand. 

We want to discuss healthy fears, how we can manage them, and when to seek professional help for your toddler. 

But before we dive in, we need to talk about the significance of fear as a survival method.

What is fear, and why do we need it?

Have you heard about seven universal emotions? Well, fear is one of them, and everyone around the world experiences it. We view it as a negative emotion, but fear serves to protect us and occurs in the threat of harm (physical, emotional, or psychological). 

The primary function of fear is to protect us from harm and danger. We learn through our experiences, and fear protects us from repeating the same harmful blunders (whether it's a physical experience or an emotional one). 

Fear is a healthy emotion that helps us survive and adapt

It's not unusual for a toddler to display signs of anxiety and worry. Here are some fears that naturally occur throughout different stages of development: 

  • Babies and toddlers are scared of strangers, separation, and loud noises. 
  • Preschoolers develop a fear of the dark; they also worry about being alone. 
  • Older children (age of school) may display social anxiety, criticism, and failure (exams, tests, school); they also start fearing supernatural things, such as ghosts and monsters. 

The list of anxieties widens as the age grows. Babies usually don't tend to worry about things since they don't imagine the future and possible harm. As children grow older, they tend to worry about different things (family relationships, medical emergencies, war, etc.). 

When does fear become problematic?

Even though we talked a lot about how helpful fear is, there's a line between natural and problematic. 

We'll tell you how to acknowledge natural fears in a bit, but before we do that, here's a little guide about when to consider professional help:

  • If the anxiety stops your child from doing what they want or like. You might notice that fears are getting in the way of your baby's social interactions, school, or family life. 
  • Their behavior doesn't match their age. For example, toddlers might fear separation, but children over the age of 8 manage this worry naturally. 
  • Their coping strategies are unhealthy (avoidance, aggression). 
  • You notice that your child is distressed and worried a lot. 

While fear and worry are natural things to display, excessive worrying can affect children's well-being and happiness.

Scientists explore the importance of childhood fears and their socio-emotional functioning in late adolescence. 

A study conducted at the University of Maine in 2012 explains that there's a significant correlation between childhood and late adolescent fear. It's speculated that avoidance and extreme discomfort shown in adolescents are linked to unanswered childhood fears. So it's essential to know how to acknowledge your child's anxiety and help them cope with fears. 

Common childhood fears by age

We gathered a small list of fears that accompany certain stages of childhood development. Take note that humans are complex creatures, and the rules don't always apply, but this list might give you an idea of what to expect at certain ages. 

Infants and Toddlers (Age 0-3)

  • Loud noises 
  • Separation
  • Strangers
  • Unknown objects 

Loud noises, such as storms, yelling, vacuum cleaner, hair dryer, and such may overload a child's senses. These stimuli are too much for a baby's nervous system, and they might find themselves distressed. 

Another classic fear within toddlers is separation anxiety. Before babies learn that things that disappear (even go to another room) and aren't within their reach still exist, they fear the separation. Over time the fear of being away from you will fade, and they'll start getting comfortable with being alone. 

When children start recognizing familiar and unfamiliar faces, that's when they start acknowledging strangers. For them, familiar faces and situations are connected with comfort and safety, and strangers will have to move and talk carefully to babies not to upset them. 

Once your baby takes their first steps, it's exploration time for them. They start learning about new things, and at this stage of development, they need familiar people to be around. It gives them a sense of predictability and control over the environment. 

How to acknowledge these fears and calm your children down?

Peek-a-boo is a wonderful game, both for fun and for teaching babies that faces disappear, and that there's nothing scary about that. Always say goodbye to them and gently reassure them that separation is only temporary. 

Make sure your child feels comfortable, loved, and receives enough attention. 

Preschoolers (Age 3-4) 

  • Loud noises 
  • Familiar things with unfamiliar features
  • Supernatural things (monsters, ghosts)
  • Costumes
  • Separation 

Imagine bursting a balloon in front of a three-year-old. We're sure you can already see their little chin shrivel up while their eyes are looking for their parents. Between the ages of 3-4, children learn that they lack control over their environment. Loud noises can remind them about this and give them a little worry about this new world they're exploring. 

We already covered the subject of strangers, but have you ever seen a toddler see their father without a beard for the first time? Such slight changes within familiar faces might give a child discomfort. They feel as if they have to get comfortable with a completely new thing, and it's a bit challenging. 

Children have a wonderfully extensive imagination which can both stimulate and scare them. Supernatural things, such as monsters, ghosts, and other unnatural beings can be distressful for a toddler. It becomes harder and harder for them to tell the difference between fantasy and reality. 

People in costumes scare preschoolers for the same reason as a stranger or a slight change in a familiar face does. It's a new thing for a child, and they might need some time to adapt to the unknown. 

At this age, separation anxiety becomes about the fear of something happening to a loved one or themselves. 

How to acknowledge these fears and calm your children down?

Learning through play can help your child become comfortable with these fears. Introduce "scary" things to your toddler during playtime, and shift the attitude towards them. 

Be present when they're watching TV, and remember not to overreact if you notice the signs of fear. 

It's also a good thing to introduce various subjects to kids during reading time. Choose books for toddlers and preschoolers that help teach children how to cope and familiarize themselves with scary things. 

School Students (Age 5-6)

  • Separation
  • Supernatural things
  • Darkness 
  • Nightmares and bad dreams 
  • Environmental changes 
  • Failure 

Separation anxiety at this age is similar to what preschoolers might experience. Children might avoid going to school, sleepovers, or parties just to be sure that their loved ones are safe. 

As children grow, their imagination broadens, and the fears that follow them expand. 

The fear of darkness is a popular subject to discuss even among adults. Humans are afraid of the unknown, and when a child encounters darkness, their imagination might run wild, fearing what might happen. 

We already mentioned the difficulty of separating reality from fantasy. Bad dreams can fuel this anxiety. Nightmares can feel very real and are likely to scare children the most at this age. 

Fire, wind, thunder, and lightning can be scary for a child. As they're still learning and adapting to their surroundings, they might find it challenging to make sense of what's really going on. 

As children enter school and become acquaintances with tests and exams, they start fearing failure. This comes close to the anxiety of being rejected, outcasted, or judged by their peers or authority figures. 

How to acknowledge these fears and calm your children down? 

At this age, children can use the knowledge to calm themselves down. So make sure that you give them plenty of information about different occurrences. Talk about why thunder and lightning happen. Show them explanatory videos or play educational mobile games. This might help them get closer to their fears in a safe environment. 

Introduce new things gradually in their lives. Don't overstimulate their nervous system by dumping information on them. Don't avoid talking about anxieties, and let them explore their fear safely. 


The world sure is a confusing place for children (and even adults can't make complete sense of it). While we already know how things work, children are just learning and adapting to new surroundings. 

They need a guide in this adventure, and it's up to their loving parents to help them navigate this scary and exciting world. 
Make sure to understand what's going on inside your toddler's mind; comprehend why they have fears, and learn how to acknowledge them.