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4 Ways to Calm Your Toddler's Fears

Spiders, the dark, that weird-looking stuffed animal. The world can be a scary place for little kids, so it's no surprise that having fears is a totally normal part of being a child. Usually they come and go, says Stephen Whiteside, Ph.D., a psychologist with the Mayo Clinic. "But if they get in the way of your child's life -- say, they stop her from doing something she should be doing or cause a lot of stress for her or you -- then it's important to work on them." In fact, teaching kids to actively face their fears helps them function better than using passive techniques, such as simply discussing ways to cope, says Whiteside. Use the strategies below to help your little scaredy-cat:

Take baby steps. Start exposing your child to whatever it is she's afraid of in small doses, Whiteside suggests. For example, if your child is afraid of dogs, begin by showing her a photo of a dog. Once she's comfortable, invite her to watch you or an older sibling pet a dog. The next step would be having your child pet the dog's back with you nearby. Eventually she'll be able to comfortably play with (or at least be near) dogs on her own.

Pile on the praise. "Facing fears can be hard work, so give your little one plenty of positive feedback, as well as tangible rewards, like allowing her to pick out a new toy," Whiteside says.

Fake confidence. Your child will take a cue from your behavior, so if you're afraid of dogs, she will likely pick up on that and also be anxious.

See through her eyes. "Often kids will become angry when they're afraid," Whiteside says. "But instead of disciplining them, be patient as they work through it. Plus, you can explain that being brave is an even better way to get your attention."