Fears are a normal part of growing up. Everyone has them to some degree. Helping children learn to cope with fear is what's important. As children learn how to master fears, they become more competent in dealing with other life challenges and new situations. If fears become disabling and intrude on a child's life and development, it's time to seek help.
Real Life Stories
The mother of 5-year-old Louisa, says "I go through a routine every night with Louisa. She always makes the same requests when I put her to bed; don't let the bed go up in the sky. Don't let the moon break the house. Don't let any alligators, cows, or snakes into the house.
Scott, age 4, is afraid of the banging of the radiator in his room, the wail of a siren, the noise of thunder.
Serena, age 5, and her mother look under her bed every night to make sure there are no witches hiding there.
Fears: a closer look
Human beings can't avoid being anxious or fearful or worried at various times in their lives. Most adults know that the fear will pass despite the immediate discomfort. Children, however, are not so sure. Most children experience some fears as they grow; it may be a fear of a ghost under the bed or a fear that their parents may leave them. Although fears are a normal part of development, children deal with them differently. Some children are daredevils; they rush in to a new situation fearlessly. Some children are more cautious and like to look things over first. Some children are too fearful to try anything new.
The nature of fears and the ways in which children cope with them change with age. To the younger child a minor danger can be seen as an enormous threat. Young fearful children rely on adults to soothe them, but with increasing age, children's increased ability to understand and to use logical reasoning helps them learn to cope with fears. Mastering fears can help a child deal with dangers rather than retreat from them.
What are kids afraid of? Every child has his own special fears, but certain fears are more prevalent at specific ages.
- 5 to l0 months -The first fear - stranger anxiety - usually appears at this age. The infant begins to distinguish between people she knows and those she doesn't know or doesn't remember.
- 12 to l8 months - Anxiety about separation is common. A toddler may worry about leaving a parent to begin nursery school or day care. This fear usually disappears within a short time as the child begins to feel more comfortable in the new setting. Separation anxiety may re-occur or develop at a later age when a child has experienced stress, such as the death of a relative or pet, an illness or a major change such as moving or divorce.
- 2 1/2 to 4 years - Toddlers are learning to make sense of the world and are not always clear about the difference between fantasy and reality. They're apt to be afraid of monsters, the dark, and other imagined threats. Some children at this age are afraid of being hurt, and a sudden loud noise, like a vacuum cleaner, can be scary.
- 4 to 6 years - The most common fears are going to school, the dark, water, heights, getting stuck in an elevator, getting lost, and small animals.
- 6 to 11 years - The most common fears are dentists, doctors, thunder and lightning, airplanes, and burglers.
- 12 years and up - The most common fears at this age revolve around social and evaluative situations: taking tests, giving oral reports, being teased or rejected by others, being embarrassed, dating, and encountering situations requiring assertiveness.
Reprinted with the permission of the NYU Child Study Center. © NYU Child Study Center.
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