At some point most moms will have to deal with their children’s fears. It doesn’t matter if they’re afraid of the dark, scary monsters flying out of the closet, thunderstorms or Santa Claus, fears if they’re not tamed can grow and become crippling. However, you can help your child gain control and tame her or his fear gradually. Kids have to go at their own pace to face fears. If they become upset, offer calm reassurance that everything will be fine.
Here are some common fears according to age and ways to reduce their impact for making everyday life easier for your child.
8 months: Separation anxiety (fear of strangers, fear of abandonment).
1 year: Fear of sudden loud noises. Common ones are vacuum cleaners, cake mixers, and house or car alarms/
18 months: Afraid of the dark and sleeping alone at night becomes overwhelming. At first your child used to sleep with the lights out and the door closed but he now asks to keep the door ajar because he’s afraid of the dark and the long lived myth of the boogeyman.
2 to 4 years: Fear of big animals, (especially if there are none at home) storms, clowns, imaginary creatures such as witches, ghosts or robots begin to develop. They can occur because of fear of the unknown or by the overreaction of others in ‘normal’ situations, or even unwittingly, from a bedtime story that was meant to be entertaining.
5 to 12 years: Fears of a particular object or situation like insects, thieves, kidnappers, doctors, dentists, and accidents are normal. Your child may also be afraid of natural disasters or war, having seen disturbing news footage on television or falling down the rabbit hole of the internet. This is also the age when social fears develop such as being rejected by peers at school or public speaking. These fears mimic those of adults on a smaller scale.
Learning to face one’s fears is an important step in a child’s development. Little by little, through experiences, the child learns to distinguish harmless situations from those that are really dangerous. Take your child’s fear seriously, without ridiculing or arguing about it. Even if it seems groundless or innocuous, the fear is real. On the other hand, don’t react too much or overprotect your child, because that only reinforces the fear.
Reinforce courage: Remind your child of situations where he’s not afraid or times when he has managed to overcome his fear.
Decode his signals of fear: Without naming them, your child may show that he is afraid by hiding, closing his eyes, or becoming unusually quiet.
Avoid suppression: Promote the expression of emotions so that your child learns to name his fears and talk about them. Words empower young children to better control and understand their emotions.
If you have a preschooler you know she lives a lot in an imaginary world. You can use creative actions to give her control over her fear. For example, offer her a plastic sword to fight the monster if he gets out from under the bed.
Ask your child if he has a specific reason for his fear (divorce, move, daycare or school environment) to see if there’s an easily identifiable source of anxiety. Talk about your own childhood fears. It’s important to be mindful of your own reactions and responses to fears and anxiety because we all know our children are watching and copying! If you cry at the sight of a spider or bee, you risk passing on your fear to your child
Positive reinforcement and emphasis on strengths have always been the best medicine to defeat the enemy known as fear. Highlighting even the smallest successes your child has in overcoming fears of what goes bump in the night, will lead to more motivation on your child’s part to stare down those fears once and for all!