They say children are fearless. They have no limits, and when we ask "why?" they ask, "why not?"
But as our children grow, they begin to see the world in a different light. They become aware of their abilities and how far they can stretch their confidence. Their experiences become broader and the challenges harder. They begin to question, worry, and fear. All of which is perfectly normal and natural as at least half of kids will start to develop fears from around the age of six.
Understanding Fear And Phobia
Like the flip of a light switch, our kids can go from being perfectly fine in the dark to suddenly being frightened by not being able to see too well when the lights go out. Scared by the heightened sense of hearing every creak and groan of a settling house, this fear can develop quickly. As can the fear of animals, heights, water, people, and much more.
Fears can become so large that they develop into intense and irrational phobias. Phobias can be debilitating and have a negative impact on a child’s life.
The Mind And Body
A fear or phobia can be seen as irrational. Our minds take control and spin us into a fight or flight scenario when something worries, scares or panics us. The sight of a spider may have a child run away or potentially freeze with fear. While our fears are heavily based in our minds, they radiate through our bodies with headaches, nausea, muscle pain, and other physical symptoms. The fear can be so extreme that it affects our daily lives, meaning a child may struggle in school or even miss classes.
What Can Parents Do?
- Recognise and validate your child’s fear. What may seem irrational to us is real and threatening for them. Telling them to stop being silly or not to worry invalidates their experience. What they need is for you to recognise their fear, be reassuring, and support them.
- While validation is important, we must also strike a balance by not amplifying their fear. We can encourage them rationally and show them they are protected and cared for. We can also share steps they can do with and without us to understand, manage and overcome their fear.
- Avoid avoidance. If your child is afraid of going to school, help them with coping strategies to overcome the fear.
- Monitor your child's media use. Ensure they watch and interact with age-appropriate shows, apps, and games.
- Childhood fears come in waves. What a two-year-old may be afraid of, a ten-year-old may not be fearful of. Know what is normal for your child’s age as fears can quickly get out of control.
Age-appropriate topics for your kids that could turn into fears:
Age 2-3 – Fear of animals, thunder and lightning, the dark
Age 4-5 – Fear of dying, getting lost, monsters
Age 5-7 – Fear of school, getting sick, bugs
Age 7-12 – Fear of social situations, performing, kidnappers