Fears for children are normal. There are certain stages in a child’s development that usually trigger and bring on fears. Sometimes a new fear can spring out of nowhere, but usually it is just a normal part of your child’s development.
- Fears start out in infancy. An infant’s first fears are being put down, being left alone, or loud noises.
- Around the age of 6-8 months your child may start to develop fears of separation anxiety, or stranger anxiety. These children may have these fears intensify around the age of one year.
- Toddlers between 2-3 will start to develop new fears. These usually happen because they are now able to compare themselves to the world, as well as their imagination is becoming more vivid. Starting to have their imagination run wild can cause them to have a fear of the unknown.
Common fears in children are monsters, snakes, spiders, the dark, being abandoned, loud noises, crowds, dogs, and characters in costumes. There are a number of other things your child can be afraid of.
If your infant has separation anxiety one of the things to not do is sneak away from them. Sneaking away can make them even more fearful of you leaving and never coming back. When you leave, announce you are leaving and have a specific goodbye routine. This can be two hugs, and a kiss before you leave, or a special handshake. Whatever it is, make sure it is the same thing every time you leave so they get into a routine of you leaving, and then can associate that with you coming back.
Another thing you can do to help ease separation anxiety is to play peek-a-boo. This may seem silly but you “disappearing” and then returning will help them realize even when they can’t see you, you do reappear.
When leaving make sure you have a clean goodbye. Don’t look back and make sad eyes or do one last wave. Say goodbye, do your special goodbye routine and head for the door eyes straight ahead. Your child can pick up on your feelings, if you feel anxious when you leave them or sad, they will pick up on these feelings too.
Loud noises are another common fear. This could be sirens, dogs barking, fireworks, or hand dryers in bathrooms.
Name the noise your child is hearing and reacting too. Sometimes the fear is not knowing where the sound is coming from.
Sympathize with your child, tell them you understand that the noise was loud, and that it can be uncomfortable sounding. Do not avoid the sounds. Do not keep your child out of public bathrooms, just because they don’t like the hand dryer sound.
Work on ways they can conquer it with you. Whether that’s putting their hands over their ears, or singing a song while the hand dryer is being used.
When your child is ready you can work on desensitizing them to the loud sound. This could be playing with what makes the loud sound they are fearful of. Vacuum cleaner, a drum, or a toy firetruck with a siren. Letting them play loud can also help them desensitize themselves to loud noises all together.
Sometimes children can develop a fear of the doctor. This can be hard when a doctor’s visit is needed. Before you go to the doctor to prep your child, explain to them what the doctor is going to do and what they may experience.
Do not surprise your child and just show up at the doctor’s office.
Don’t ever threaten your child with a doctor’s visit.
Time the appointment appropriately in your child’s day. Don’t schedule it when your child may be sleepy or hungry.
Alert the doctor staff.
Don’t make promises you can’t keep, comfort when needed, and you need to stay relaxed as well so your child doesn’t pick up on any of your stress and anxiety. End the doctors visit with something fun, a trip to the park, an ice cream, or something your child enjoys.
Dealing With Childhood Fears
When soothing fears the main goal is to find what the fear actually is. What the exact fear is not just a general picture. Your child may not be the best at articulating what is really scaring them. They are scared of the dark, but why, what is it about the dark that is scaring them?
After you find what is causing their fear, validate them. Don’t make them think their fears are silly or insignificant. They are real to them. Make them feel like you are on their side and are backing them up. Don’t tease them about their fears, or don’t tease them with their fears.
The best thing you can do for your child’s fears is to not avoid them. It’s ok to take it slow to interact with fears, but avoidance can make a fear turn into a phobia. Avoidance is the easiest way for a fear to grow. Slow and patient when introducing your child to their fears. If they are scared of the grass, picking them up and carrying them to a blanket on the grass is acceptable, but don’t avoid the grass the rest of the day because they don’t want to step on it.
Allow your child to help plan out solutions to their fears. Pretend play can help with this. It won’t bring on the actual stress of the fear, but you can role play how to solve or conquer fears when pretending with your child. See if they have any solutions to offer up as suggestions. Allow them some control in conquering their fear.
When your child gets bigger, explaining things to them can be helpful. That can take away the fear of the unknown. Reading books, or watching shows about things they are fearful of can also help take away some of the fear.
When To Seek Professional Help:
There are some things to watch out for if they occur you will want to speak with your doctor about them.
- One is when physical symptoms start to happen in response to fears. This could be them feeling unwell, stomach aches, or headaches.
- Another red flag is when fears are interfering with their daily activities.
- If the fears seem to be getting worse instead of better after trying some of the soothing techniques, it could mean that the fear is turning more into a phobia.
- And the last one is if your child won’t be calmed down, this could be hours after being exposed to a fear or even days.
Developing fears is a part of your child’s development. Learning how best to soothe your child when these fears do suddenly pop up is important to help them overcome their fears instead of the fears taking a hold of your child.
Most childhood fears are a normal part of development! Know the warning signs for when you may need professional help. #HealthSurgeon
READ MORE: Separation Anxiety and Sleep Trouble
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