When was the last time you were afraid? All of us have fears. I try very hard to stay away from snakes and I really don’t like mice at all. Many adults fear the unknown. Fear is a normal emotion for adults as well as children. But for some reason, we don’t take our child’s fears as seriously as ours. Fears are a normal part of childhood and are typical at certain ages.
According to the Child Guidance Service of the Oklahoma State Department of Health (www.health.ok.gov), children are like adults. When they feel a sense of control, they are less fearful. Some fears develop with independence. For example, when a child begins to walk and understands she can leave mom, she realizes that mom can leave as well. A child’s surroundings can increase fears…unfamiliar places, crowds, shadows from night lights, etc. Sometimes a child’s fear is based on a lack of knowledge: “The water goes down the drain so I might disappear down the drain.”
Often a child’s fears are the same as their parent’s. Fears can be increased by a parent’s reaction or comments. For example, if a parent screams at the sight of a spider, the child is likely to do the same. Children take what you say literally: “The police officer will take you to jail if you don’t stay in your car seat” or when a stranger says, “You’re so cute that I’ll just take you home with me.” Be careful about referring to death as sleep since this may cause children to be afraid to go to sleep.
Here are the most common early childhood fears:
6 months – stranger anxiety
8 months – separation from parent, falling
1 year – separation from parent, noises, animals, bath, doctor
2 years – separation from parent, toilet training, bath, bedtime, doctor
3 years – loss of parent, toilet training, bedtime, monsters and ghosts, anyone
who looks different than family (disability, beard, skin color, etc.)
4 years – noises, animals, bedtime, monsters and ghosts, people who look
different than family, loss of parent, death, divorce
5 years – noises, animals, monsters and ghosts, getting lost, going to day care,
Loss of parent, death, injury, divorce
Try these suggestions when dealing with your child’s fears….
*Try not to tell your child that she will be a “big girl” when she overcomes her fear. This puts too much pressure on her.
*Offer understanding of the fear. For example, say, “Loud noises like thunder can be scary.”
*Provide information about the feared item or situation. “Dogs bark because that’s how they talk and sometimes bark a lot when they are happy to see someone.”
*Read a special book like There’s a Nightmare in my Closet by Mercer Mayer and talk about the feared object or situation.
*Help your child approach fears at her own pace, which will probably be slow. For example, allow her to decide when to put her face under water when swimming. This gives her a sense of control and less fear.
*Closely monitor what your child watches on TV. Many programs and movies are too intense for young children and may encourage fear.
One of the most common fears among children (and sometimes adults) is getting a shot. This can be scary and painful. Children can feel less fear and pain if they are treated in a positive and comforting way before, during and after a shot. To make things easier for yourself:
*Be honest with your child. Shots hurt but only for a minute.
*Listen and acknowledge her feelings.
*Offer to comfort her to help her cope with the fear of getting a shot.
*Offer hugs and encouraging words before, during and after a shot.
Remember that fears are real to children. Do not expect her fears to go away overnight, shame her or force her to face the fear. Help her by using these suggestions.
Carrie T. Brazeal is the County Extension Agent for Family and Consumer Sciences with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 972.424.1460, Ext. 4233.