Children’s fears and how to deal with them

Here are the most common children’s fears, agewise, and what parents can do to help children get over them.

by Francesca picchi

How many times have you noticed your children behaving strangely, for example, wetting the bed, suddenly weeping or trying to avoid situations that you think are perfectly normal?

Well, if this happened, you have probably witnessed your child’s moment of “fear”.

Fears are emotions and experiences that all children go through and are warning signals when there is something they don’t know.

Why then are children afraid? Small children are afraid because they still know very little about the world surrounding them, so they feel defenseless. That is why, as they grow, these fears tend to go away. These fears originate in the children’s “interior world,” that is, the world full of emotions and insecurities, which grow bigger through their imagination and which each child possesses and where each object seems to be alive; just think how when a child trips on a stone and falls, he will say that it’s the stone’s fault, it’s mean and it hurt him.

It is therefore important for the parent to accept the reality of these fears being “legitimate”; it’s useless to force the child to be courageous because the child will feel misunderstood.

You have to respect each child’s rhythm and empathize with him, even just by listening, this is the best way for parents to deal with their children’s fears.

The role of the parent is to become the child’s ally; this will send him a clear message “don’t worry, I am here with you, you’re not alone, we will fight your fears together”.

Children’s fears represent a natural step in their development.

We will now take a look at the most common childhood fears to see what we, as parents, can do to help our children overcome these fears.

1–2 years old

Fear: Strangers

The most common fear in the first year of age is the fear of strangers. At this age, the child begins to identify himself and to distinguish the various people surrounding him, showing different behaviors in front of someone he knows or a stranger. Our children show this fear by looking down, hiding, hanging on physically to the parent, crying or being silent.

How to Behave: Don’t force children to interact with strangers.

In this situation, it’s important that the child not be forced by the parent to interact with the stranger. Instead, the parent should speak to the child calmly and in a reassuring voice tell him about the stranger, without increasing his fear.

It’s very important to make the child feel protected, even though there is no real danger or enemy.

Fear: Separation from the parents

The main fear of children is connected to that of being separated from the parents. This fear, described as “separation anxiety,” appears in a normal phase of the intellectual and social development linked to the age and it’s because the child has not yet acquired the concept of temporary separation. He thus feels abandoned everytime he sees his mother or father go away. This kind of fear is expressed through anger, uncontrollable weeping or silence.

How to behave; say “bye bye” to the children every time you go away, don’t sneak out when they are distracted.

It’s very important to say bye to children when you go away from them, calmly repeating phrases like “don’t worry, mommy will be back soon”; it’s totally unadvisable to sneak away when children are distracted. This would result in a panic attack every time you are out of their sight, even if you are in the room next door. It’s also very important to avoid phrases such as “stop being a baby” and “you’re big now and other children don’t behave like this.” Such phrases are damaging and belittling.

2–3 Years old

Fear: Darkness

At this age, many children fear darkness along with the fear of ghosts and monsters. Children in this age group regard darkness as something incomprehensible and connect it to the fear of the unknown and unfamiliar. Everything seems different in darkness and the child feels alone and unprotected. This fear may be expressed through insomnia accompanied by crying and screaming at night and bed wetting.

How to behave: talk about it with your children and use a night light.

It’s important to let the child speak openly about his fears without making fun of him because if he does not talk about them, then the fear could get worse and maybe the child will not dare talk about it anymore. It’s very hard to get over fear of darkness and it doesn’t necessarily have to be; sometimes the problem can be solved simply by using a nightlight which will make the child feel safe and perhaps the fear will go away on its own.

3–4 years old

Fear: nightmares

At this age, many children have difficulty falling asleep: many children don’t want to sleep because they are afraid of having bad dreams and they repeatedly call for the parents to stay with them. Bad dreams could be the result of your children’s creative process; nightmares could be a way of processing the bad feelings accumulated during the day.

How to behave: talk about the nightmares and prevent them by playing relaxing games before sleeping

Talk to your children and explain that nightmares, like dreams, are simply the result of memories influenced by their mood, that is, nightmares depend on our brain and nothing in the dream is real. It’s absolutely indispensable that the parents be emotionally close to the child and understanding, helping the child to express his feelings as well as all that happened during the day. Light meals and relaxing bedtime activities may help to prevent nightmares.

These are usually the most common fears in children

As we mentioned earlier, our children are just beginning to understand the world around them, and therefore having fewer unknown objects and situations at the age of 4 to 5. These fears, however, will be replaced by other fears, which is normal. They must, however, be kept under control so that they don’t become phobias.

A creative way to help children express their fears is to encourage them to talk about the fears and act them out, to draw them, or to show them through a game. Fairy tales, for example, present fears in a way that they can be identified, understood, and overcome. My suggestion is to invent a nice fairy tale before your child goes to sleep. A tale where fear is caused by a big and evil monster who is defeated by a strong prince or fearless princess with whom the child can identify.

You can also ask your children to draw the monsters on a piece of paper and then tear it to pieces together. It’s important to remember that children’s fears are expressed in different ways, and what really matters is empathy. The most important thing is to cuddle your children. A loving and ever-present parent is the best fear deterrent…and, let’s be truthful, cuddles are good for the children, but they are also good for us.

by Francesca Picchi