Early Childhood Fears and Anxiety: Addressing your Child’s Fears

Halloween time is a good opportunity to discuss childhood fears and anxiety.  This sometimes frightful holiday may scare your child and highlight some common fears for your child’s developmental stage.  It is very normal and typical for children to have fears and anxiety over certain things at different points in their childhood.  Addressing your child’s fears is a delicate skill and one that should be considered with care.

Fear and anxiety are typical feelings of all human beings.  Although it may seem that children have more of them, even adults have their own set of fears that are probably the result of past experiences.  Many fears and anxieties stem from childhood, which is why addressing your child’s fears is important.  Childhood fears and anxiety may seem silly to you as an adult, but it is very real to your child and you should not dismiss them.

early childhood fears and anxietyFears and anxiety evolve over time so what bothers your little one as an infant, will be replaced by a different fear in toddlerhood, early childhood and beyond.  Also remember, fears are not all bad.  Childhood fears help us learn to cope with challenges later in life and sometimes grounded fears help keep us safe.

During infant and toddler years, fears and anxiety usually surround strangers, separation, loud noises and changes in environment.  Addressing your child’s fears during these early stages include lots of love and attention.  Babies need to feel touch, have eye contact and hear talking and singing often for their own comfort.  The safety of familiar caregivers and security of knowing that someone is there to care for them when they feel afraid is how babies and toddlers develop emotional security and learn to cope with stress.  This is why breastfeeding is excellent for your child’s emotional development – you are constantly comforting your baby with touch and closeness.

As your child enters the pre-school years, fears shift as their sense of reality and imagination develop.  Pre-schoolers are often afraid of the dark, monsters, ghosts, costume characters, nighttime noises and certain animals, heights or situations.  Most pre-schoolers can recognize the difference between reality and make-believe but when fearful emotions overwhelm them, the line becomes blurry.  While it is easy for parents to dismiss these irrational fears, you should realize that your child truly feels threatened by them.  Talking through fears and anxiety rationally helps, but taking action will go a lot further.  If your child is afraid of the dark, spend short bursts of time playing silly games in a dark space to reinvent the emotions your child has in darkness.  If your child is afraid of costume characters, let him meet some without their costume heads on to show him there is a real person inside.  Animal fears can be addressed by gently encouraging your child to touch friendly pets and observe their animal behavior.

Persuade your children to talk to you about their childhood fears and anxiety.  Talking through a problem is a good habit for your family and you want your child to continue to come to you for help and advice throughout his life.  Drawing pictures of fears can be helpful, and then help your child redirect the image into something more positive, perhaps by using conversation bubbles to turn the fear around.  Imaginative role play can also help your child visualize overcoming a fear.  Don’t buy into your child’s fears so much that you allow him to avoid what makes him afraid.  This is unrealistic to the hurdles he will not be able to avoid in life and will never help him overcome anxiety.  Instead, let him know that you are always there as a safe place for him but encourage venturing out slowly to address fears.  And teach a mantra such as “I can do this” or breathing techniques to help alleviate anxiety in frightening situations.