How can I help my toddler overcome a fear of animals?

As toddlers become more aware of the world around them, they may develop fears. Understand that this is a perfectly normal response given your child's limited range of experiences and ability to express emotions. First, acknowledge your child's fears. Then, reassure your child that you will keep him or her safe ("Mommy will hold you until we know if the dog is friendly.") Prepare your child as much as possible ("We are visiting a friend who has a friendly cat but the cat will stay in the basement." or "We are visiting a park with dogs today but they will be on leashes.") Find comfortable ways to increase your child's exposure to and tolerance of animals or whatever is causing the reaction. Discuss rules for safety, such as always asking before petting an animal, allowing the animal to smell your hand, petting only in certain places (usually the top of the head or the back). Practice with a favorite plush animal. Read funny stories about animals, visit animals that are in enclosures at zoos or farms, and work your way up to visiting with more mellow pets. Do not force the issue and be reassured that most children will grow out of their fears as they get old enough to better understand them.

Candace Lindemann

Submit a question for our learning experts.