Fear & Aversions in Toddlers

Archived Q&A and Reviews


15 month old daughter afraid of balls

Feb 2010

Hi, I have a 15 month old daughter who is afraid of ball. I just discovered this recently. I brought a ball from Walmart two weeks back, the size of volleyball/soccer ball and from the moment she saw this ball, she has been freaking out. She gets stiff and starts running away from the ball crying. Any clue why ? -S.U

One of my kids did this too - she was also terrified of a jack-in-the-box she got for Christmas at that age (we had to hide it immediately). We felt that as her understanding of cause and effect, and self-animated vs. non-animated objects was expanding, these toys were just confusing for her. They were not ''alive'' like cats or people, yet they could make themselves move in surprising and unpredictable ways (of course if she could have tolerated it she would have figured out the jack-in-the-box was predictable). I remember her frantically upset seeing the ball rolling (she's now a fine 30-year-old mom with no odd phobias). Just put the ball away, give her brain time to do a little more assimilating and organizing of information, and the ball will be acceptable to her in a few months. Liisa

Really it doesn't matter why your daughter is afraid of the ball, the fact is she just is. Why not purchase a small ball, the size of a tennis ball or slightly larger, that is less of a threat and you can teach her to take the ball and roll it. Eventually, you can start upgrading the size of the ball until she isn't afraid anymore. Anon

I have a 15 month old son and he is going through the same thing right now. Although he seems to love most balls, he is terrified of the ''giggle wiggle ball''. He is also afraid of various other toys, most of which seem to make noise. Sometimes he will see a ball in a store or at a friends house and he will decide he is afraid of that also. I just put these things away in a closet or somewhere where he does not have to look at it. Personally I really do not like kid toys that make a lot of noise so I am somewhat relieved that he doesn't like them either. I figure when he's ready he will want to play with those toys. I think it's normal - at least it's normal for him! Other than that quirk he is hitting every milestone, says 50+ words, is walking, running, eating, happy cute baby! Melody

2.5 yr old is scared of everything

Dec 2006

My 2.5 year old daughter has recently become scared of almost anything. She tells me she's scared about 20 times a day -- sometimes she doesn't seem particularly scared and other times she seems genuinely frightened (running toward me from another room with an anxious expression). One of her main fears is Santa -- or her idea of Santa. Ever since our downstairs neighbors put up xmas lights she's associated them with Santa. She's made the connection between the neighbors and ''Santa who comes at Christmas'' so now she asks me every day whether or not Santa is coming in our house -- often after hearing the downstairs neighbors make noise (which is frequent). To tell the truth, I'm getting a little frustrated with the constant ''scared'' mantra. I have tried ignoring it and also being extremely reassuring, neither seem to lessen the intensity or frequency of the fears. Now I just do something in between -- I say something like, ''there's nothing to be afraid of. oh look, there's a toy!'' Is this normal toddler behavior or have we messed her up psychologically in some way (!). We've had a bunch of transitions about 4-6 months ago (new sibling, move across the country, etc.) but she seemed like she was over any upset around those changes. Please assure me that this will go away! Scared No More

My son also goes through phases of being very scared. Last year on Christmas Eve he could not go to sleep because he was so scared of a strange man walking around in our house after we were all asleep. I tried to reassure him. Then I thought, well, it's a reasonable fear. If it were a real man--and my son beleives Santa is real--I wound not want him wandering around in the house either! So instead of trying to dismiss the fear or otherwise pretend that it didn't count, I tried to reassure my son that we would take care of him no matter what.

The whole thing got me thinking about how I address his fears. Now what I try to do is reassure him that he is strong and safe, and that he can handle what comes his way. And that we are always here to help. I've also started to refer back to events when he was scared but didn't let his fears overwhelm him. I talk in detail about how that worked, and suggest that he try it again. It really seems to help. --c

My daughter is in the same phase (and same age). She's scared over things non-frightening. I'm sure it must be a phase. My son went through a brief monster thing, but otherwise I don't remember this (maybe a ''girl thing.'') If she comes from the other room and her older brother is with her, then I'll say, ''tell your brother you're scared and maybe he'll hold your hand.'' Or I offer her to sit on my lap if the scary thing is in the same room with us. I don't intellectualize it and these small things I offer seem to be enough. I'm sure it will go away and the next phase will hit Anon

I'll assume others will cover the possibility of some trauma causing this. I hope that is not the case but do investigate. I'll cover the better case scenario.

IF your child is very verbal, like mine, then you might consider a longer, low strees interview with her. Find some safe, familiar time (you both need to be in a contemplative mood) to discuss all the kinds of scary she knows about and all the things that are like scary but have other better words for them. If only to get her out of the groove of using that word a million times for your sake. But beyond that she might get a handle on the permutations that are just intense but not threatening (most of them) Then when a ''scary'' thing happens you can resume the discussion and pick out a better description together.

I should stop being surprised by it, but my daughter is always ''working'' on things in her mind and asking questions that, when I listen closely, uncover what she is working on. Try listening to any question that comes out of nowhere. Often she has gotten a key thing wrong and then extrapolates quite reasonably from there to scary conclusions. An example from example, ''can we park close?''(sounded a tad concerned and had brought it up earler) ''I'll try, why do you ask?''(my favorite add in) ''I don't want to go far without you'' ''I'm walking you in like I always do'',''But this is a leaving class...'' She assumed that since it was a non-parent participation class she'd be dropped at the curb. Somehow those got connected in her head, and because I'd never even considered that a possibility, it took some extra hard listening to pick it up between the lines.

Another Tack you could consider: a friend had a similar problem and they made up and found songs and poems about the things that were scary that they recalled whenever they encountered the scary thing. Worked great for them - a stay at home dad

My niece went though that stage around the same age. She was 'scared' of everything. The phase passed, just like all other phases. She's now almost four and I can't remember when she was last 'scared' of something. My son is two years and four months old and I'm wondering if and when he'll get to that stage too! (Now my niece will even tell my son ''don't be scared'' when she thinks he's scared of something. It's cute!) Andi

I wrote a very similar post the week before about my 2.5 year old daughter and did not get any responses. Maybe you can look it up, it was called, ''Stranger Anxiety In 2.5-Year-Old.'' I hope that we can get some responses, because I would love other advice too.

Overall the point is similar, there are certain people and or situations that make her uncomfortable or disturbed. She clamps her hands over her face and wimpers. She too frequently talks about how she is ''scared.'' Like you, my feeling is that some of it is a feat and some of it is for attention. What I have found works best is to simply aknowledge her fear in a matter of fact way. ''I see that you are worried.'' Then I reassure her that things will be okay and I continue on as usual. We try to act very casual and do not let her intensity affect us. I have found that if I pick her up or keep trying to sooth her, then it only makes things worse. That is why I think that some of it is for attention.

To answer your question, in my opinion there is nothing wrong with your little girl. Children go through so many changes and we as parents have to view these sort of things as temporary. I have an 8.5 year old daughter as well and all of her ''concering behaviors'' change so much and improve with time. It seems like the ones that I really worried about most got much worse before better.

In addition, I have read a little bit in a developmental psych book about the ''irrational fear stage,'' and it takes place during toddler years and sounds very similar to what you are noticing. Maybe you can look that term up. All in all, I can say that once I stopped giving my little one so much attention for her ''scary scenarios,'' they have definetly lightened up.

Today we are going to visit a Santa and I just assume she will stay as far away as possible while her sister goes to collect her gift. And, so be it! Best to you! Another ''scared'' tot!