Twinkle Shah has written to us about her 10 month old baby. She’s noticed that her baby gets extremely cranky and scared when the pet is around.
If children don’t have too much exposure to animals – it can mean that they get afraid of them early on in their lives. They may even have had a bad experience when they were younger and its meant that they are really worried around a particular animal. Some children are afraid of pet animals. They may not have had a lot of experience with these pets or perhaps an incident which has made them fearful. Helping children overcome their fears can sometimes be challenging and tiring but very worthwhile.
Adults can be worried by things they don’t understand or haven’t had experiences of before so why not a child?
For most children, however, this fear is not triggered by an attack, but by an event such as a large dog running toward them. While the dog’s intentions may have been to play, the sight of a large animal with unknown intentions loping toward them can prompt an anxiety toward all canines in some children.
Here are some tips to help:
1. Put yourself in their shoes. The animal is something they don’t understand, so that’s why they are worried. With larger animals, a toddler is pretty small compared to a big dog – so is there any wonder they are a little scared?
2. Don’t use emotive language. Try to use word like “what a nice dog” and not “what a big dog.” When they are younger they may only understand some of the words so keeping them neutral means they won’t pick up the words that you don’t want them to associate with the animal, such as big, or scary. Fluffy and cuddly might be better!
3. Keep your tones light. When you meet an animal, try to act natural, or be as relaxed as you can. Sometimes its hard to do so when your child is crying hard of course.
4. Show understanding. It’s important to empathise with your child. Explaining you understand how they feel. Again, try not to say that you understand why they are scared. Just how they feel. If they only have limited understanding the danger is they only hear the word scared and see the dog, for example, and the association may be re-inforced.
5. Give them time. My boy was scared from day one pretty much, of dogs. But now he is six, he wants one. He was frightened of cats too, and we have two beautiful ones of our own which he adores. It may take a few years, but as they get bigger, and so the animals get smaller, the fear will diminish.
6. Get yourself a pet. It’s probably a bit mad to get the pet which your child is really scared of, but getting another animal, can help show your toddler that they aren’t all scary. My little boy started to become happy with cats, so we got two. We even have a reward chart behaviour to choose for looking after your pets to encourage your children with them as well.
7. Encouraging them to be respectful not scared is fine. It’s always important to check the temperament of an animal first with the owner if its an animal you don’t know. It’s better to keep your distance, and then ask questions. If you do this, then your children will pick up this habit from you. They do, after all, copy a lot, don’t they?!
Patience, as with all things kiddie, is the watchword here.
With Special Thanks to Misha Bhattal and Nidhi Karan Garg.