Anxiety and fear are human behavioral states in response to actual or potential threats to their well-being or life. They trigger specific behavioral patterns to cope with an adverse or unexpected situation and to behave safely. All of us experience fear at one time or another. In this sense, common childhood fears are not only normal but also developmentally necessary.
Children’s fears by age
Childhood fears usually have predictable patterns and timings. The sense of parental security and calm are the basis of the world of infants & toddlers (0-2 years old), and a loud noise, separation from mother, strange people – anything that disrupts their sense of predictability and security – may create a fear.
At a pre-school age (3-4 years old), our kids continue fearing anything that isn’t as it usually is, such as loud noises or strangers, but a big share of their fears become determined by their yet immature imagination. It is rather easy for them to imagine a monster or a ghost living in their room. They can become afraid of people in costume or scary things they see on television or read in books. What is very challenging for kids at this age is to imagine that there really isn’t anything scary under their bed and to calm own selves down. That type of imagination comes at a much older age.
When the real world begins to set in with the start of a school, new fears emerge with the explosion of knowledge and experience. Fire, burglary, thunderstorms and lightning, spiders, and wars, as well as the opinion and bad-judgements of peers, are the typical fears of a school-aged kid.
Five tips on how to handle common childhood fears
- Irrespective of your kid’s age, approach his or her fears with respect. It feels real to your child and causes him a sense of insecurity and anxiety. Help your child to cope with own fears by developing the right skills and self-confidence.
- Never force your kid to overcome fear, but also never cater to fears. If your child is afraid of dogs, don’t cross the street to avoid a dog, but coach him by serving a model. Phrases like “Look at this dog! It’s wagging its tail. It should be a happy and friendly dog,” may calm him down.
- Make fears predictable for your child by telling if something scary is going to happen. Talking about it may make the negative feeling less powerful. On the other hand, it will teach her how to confront fears face-to-face.
- Serving a good model means showing calmness and confidence when facing your kid’s fears, but it means also a better management of your own fears, worries, and anxieties. There is no need to share them with your child.
- Kids love to hear about other children being strong. Bringing examples of other kids or heroes of books and stories afraid of similar things, but successfully overcoming their adversity, has proven to be an efficient technique to help your child overcome fears.
When to worry about childhood fears?
Childhood fears that become persistent, extreme, or severe may turn into phobias. Phobias can be very difficult to tolerate and to overcome alone and are one of the key reasons kids are referred to for mental health support. This is particularly true when the events or things that stimulate those phobias are difficult to avoid.
The best option is to look for patterns. If a one-time incident of childhood fears is resolved, there is no need to make something significant out of it. But if you suspect that a persistent pattern has emerged, contact a health professional for qualified help.
What was your child’s major phobia? How did your help her to overcome it? Share some tips us.