When a toddler reaches approximately 20 months of age they often transform from an outgoing, friendly baby to a screaming wreck at the sight of an unfamiliar face. Many parents become especially discouraged with the child’s reaction over the holiday season when the terror is directed towards Santa Claus. Most parents dream about the perfect holiday photo with Jolly St. Nick and their little one but the toddler often comes inconsolable. From the moment the child looks at Santa’s bearded face he begins to scream and wail. The parents become frustrated and everyone waiting in line to see Santa begins to squirm.
The important thing for any parent to remember is that the child’s behavior is normal and transitional reaction. Your child may not warm to Santa but the following year the child will show no fear.
Parents should respect the child’s terror reaction and refrain from pushing the issue. If the child begins to scream on Santa’s lap than promptly remove the little one and offer words of understanding. Never react with anger and avoid laughing at your child. The child’s fears are very real to him and should be respected.
Offer the child support and words of encouragement. Avoid forcing the child to approach any stranger that he is not comfortable around.
Children often exhibit shyness prior to having a full blown fear reaction. If the child is only shy go first towards Santa or the stranger and offer the child support. Show the child through your actions not to be afraid. Once the child observes the reaction of his parent towards the scary person the child will be more likely to mimic the overall atmosphere.
Within a year most children outgrow the fear of Santa and other figures. By the time a child reaches five years old most have lost all fears and phobias. If the child continues to suffer from irrational fears the parent should consider seeking professional help. Serious phobias and fears do develop in childhood or after a traumatic event and may require a qualified professional to help overcome before they become deep seated.
At the same time period that a child exhibits a fear of strangers they will also often begin to fear the unknown. A dark room becomes a place of waiting monsters or other scary entities. If a parent observes their child reacting in fear to the dark, consider placing a nightlight in the child’s room. Many parents have reservations about night lights because they are afraid that their child will become overly dependent upon the light and loose the ability to overcome their fear of the dark. Despite this uncertainty, offering the child the comfort of a light will actually help him defeat his fears and feel more self secure.
Children go through many stages as they learn about the world around them. Each stage lasts for only a short while and evolves into something new. They make the child a fully rounded individual. Parents need to understand the child’s fears and show the proper amount of respect towards their child’s feelings.