General Fears in Children
Most children experience fears at some time during their lives. In most cases these fears are a normal part of development.
As with adults, it is appropriate for children to be fearful at times. Fears alert us of dangerous situations. For example, parents want their children to be afraid of, and thus stay away from, a growling, snarling dog. It is when such a fear generalizes to a fear of all dogs, or when it becomes so intense that children fear leaving the house, that the fear becomes a problem.
Just because many fears are considered normal does not mean that parents should ignore them. If children's normal fears are not handled correctly they can become excessive and/or can persist into adulthood. Therefore, parents should try to help their children cope with their fears before they become a problem.
Common Symptoms of Fear/Anxiety
Often children are unable to identify what makes them fearful. Children can express anxiety in many ways. Many times these expressions do not seem to be directly related to the actual fear. Here are some of the ways that anxiety can express itself in children:
Difficulty concentrating. A child who is fearful will often have difficulty paying attention. For example, a fearful child may have problems completing school assignments, listening in class, etc.
Changes in normal activity level. Children who are experiencing anxiety may be more active than usual, even seeming hyperactive. Or, they may be less active than usual, seeming slow and lethargic. What parents should look for is a change in their children's activity levels.
Changes in eating habits. Some children who are anxious or fearful have little or no appetite, and as a result eat less than what is normal for them. Other children eat more than usual as a response to anxiety.
Regression. Many children who are experiencing anxiety will regress in some way. For example, a child who is fully toilet trained may begin night time wetting, or a child who has stopped sucking his or her thumb may start the habit again.
Changes in sleep habits. Children who are anxious may have difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep. Children experiencing anxiety may also have more frequent nightmares and/or night terrors.
Occurrence of psychosomatic (physical) complaints. Children who are fearful may complain of physical ailments such as stomach aches or headaches.
Wetting/soiling. Children that are experiencing high levels of anxiety may, even if they are fully toilet trained, begin wetting or soiling.
Parents should keep in mind that children experiencing normal fears do not generally experience the above symptoms. When fears become excessive, these symptoms can develop.
Reprinted with the permission of the Center for Effective Parenting. © 1998-2004 The Center for Effective Parenting. All Rights Reserved.
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