Development FAQ: 18-24 months – Learning

My daughter of just 20 months has developed a fear of the vacuum cleaner. I am not sure what started this but now she will scream when the cleaner is turned on. How do I get her to realise that there is nothing to be afraid of? I have to get the house cleaned so should I just keep vacuuming in front of her?  Is this sort of behaviour normal?

Small children often develop fears about all kinds of things. It is a quite normal part of development.   Learning how to deal with your child’s fear in a sympathetic and understanding way is an important part of motherhood.

Most irrational fears pass as a child grows up.  It may be hard to tell why your daughter has suddenly developed a fear of the vacuum. She may have had a fright one day if it was switched on without her seeing it and the sudden noise might have startled her.  If she has seen the vacuum cleaner hoovering up bits and pieces she may think that if the vacuum sucks up all the dust and dirt might it suck her up too?

The way to tackle her fear is to acknowledge it is real to her, no matter how irrational it appears to you. It is better to try to find ways for her to become more comfortable with her fear than to ignore it all together.   Initially, is it possible for you to do a little vacuuming while your daughter sits on the lap of her father or a friend or grandparent?   Do not encourage her fear by making too much of her anxiety.  Simply try a little distraction, and a little explanation.

Warn her when you about to put the vacuum on, but encourage the other adult to distract your daughter with a book and a cuddle.  Try to explain to your daughter what the vacuum does.  If you are on your own, suggest your daughter sits on the sofa, and reassure her that you will keep the vacuum away from her.

If you think she fears being sucked up in the vacuum, show her how it works.  Let her watch, maybe from your arms, whilst you clean up some crumbs but then put a larger toy or block in the path and show her that it cannot suck that up.

Look out for storybooks which deal with practical tasks.   The more your daughter understands about vacuums, how they work and what they are used for, the more likely her fear is to subside.

Toddlers love to copy your activities.  Try to borrow or buy your daughter a small toy vacuum cleaner and encourage her to use this.