Monsters under the bed? Darkness or loud dogs? Trains, swimming pools, being alone? Children do not need to know about falling stock prices to be afraid!
Child fears are like adult fears, essentially of the unknown. We have learned to face some fears, run from others, live with the unknown.
Babies at about 7 months begin to experience separation anxiety. Your child may cling to you when a new person is around, but they are not yet able to realize what the fear is. Closer to 16 months they begin to recognize a stranger, even if it is someone they have met before.
From 2 to 4 language has developed enough that the child can identify many fears. These may include the dark, a bath, thunder and lightning, toilet training, loud noises, animals, doctors, strangers or separation. Notice these are very concrete fears caused by a specific situation. Kids ages 4 through 6 outgrow many of these first fears, but with development of the imagination, have anxieties that aren’t based in reality, such as fears of monsters and ghosts.
Click here for a few tips on dealing with these issues from Supernanny Dr. Martha Erickson.
For now, here are a few tips on how to help your son master these fears so that he – and you – can rest easily:
- Take your child’s fears seriously, without overreacting. It’s important not to dismiss or ridicule the fears. Listen to the feelings and reflect them back with words: “I can see you’re really scared.”
- Reassure him that you’re there to keep things safe. Offer comfort as needed, and demonstrate that there’s nothing frightening in the room. This may mean turning on the light in his closet or looking under the bed.
- Over time, help the child actively master fear by reading or making up stories about their monsters. Or you could join him in imaginative play and act out monster stories… for example, let the child pretend to be the monster and you are the child who tells the monster to either start being nice or go someplace else. Or let your child act as the parent reassuring his stuffed animal or doll.
- Finally, see through your child’s eyes by remembering your own childhood. What used to frighten you? And what did you find comforting at those times? As with so many aspects of parenting, our own childhood memories often yield the best information on how to care for our children.
The Glen Ellyn Public Library has resources for both parents and children on fears. On November 14 at 9:30 Youth Staff will share stories and tips for families in a 30 minutes program called “Steps and Stages: I’m Scared!” Those interested in attending should register themselves and children of any age who could benefit from more information on this topic.
Robin Currie is an early literacy specialist Librarian at the Glen Ellyn Public Library and leads our Steps and Stages and many other programs.