Fear and anger in toddlers

Thinking & Learning   |   Age: 1 year 5 months

Fear and anger in toddlers

It’s not always easy for adults to tell the difference between fear and anger, and to have control over their emotions, and that difficulty is magnified in toddlers, who have so many of the same great big feelings, but without a lot of the tools adults use to process their feelings. It’s parents’ and caregivers’ jobs to help children discover and use those tools to sort through their frustrating and confusing emotions, but it isn’t always easy to do. For one thing, it isn’t always easy to tell what a toddler is feeling. Anger and fear especially can be hard to tell apart or deal with separately in toddlers.

When fear looks like anger

Anxiety and fear are tricky emotions because they can be expressed in many different ways. While it’s common for toddlers who are afraid or anxious to become clingy or quiet, it’s also common for young children to respond to anxiety or fear by lashing out, which is generally thought of as a way of expressing anger. This means that parents and caregivers often respond to a toddler who lashes out, whether it’s by yelling, by lashing out physically against other children or adults, or throwing a tantrum, by offering strategies for working through anger, even though anger isn’t always the feeling that prompts the aggressive response.

When anger and fear go together

One reason anger and fear aren’t always easy to tell apart is that they often go together. Toddlers who are afraid, and can’t express that fear in a way their parents or caregivers understand, often start to get frustrated and angry. Toddlers who are angry and lashing out are often overwhelmed by their own feelings, which they often don’t know how to process yet, which can be scary.

Addressing anger and fear in toddlers

With young toddlers your baby’s age, there are a few strategies that can be helpful whether it’s anger or fear you’re dealing with if she lashes out.


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