Dealing With Childhood Fears

| November 24, 2012 | 26 Comments

Girl covering eyesFrom the time they’re little, kids have fears. Some of these are transient, and others stick around for a long time. Most of us are familiar with a baby’s fear of separation from his mother, and a three-year-old’s terror of spiders, but what about bigger kids? During my 12-year-old’s recent well-child visit, I mentioned to his pediatrician that he suddenly seems more fearful. She explained that during puberty, hormones and brain development can incite fears that hadn’t existed before or exacerbate previously low levels of anxiety.

It can be very difficult for parents to know what to do when their child exhibits fears that to an adult seem irrational or overblown. Here are some tips on dealing with childhood fears and phobias:

  • Remember that the fear is very real to your child. One of my children used to be afraid that an animal would break into our house via any windows left open. While this sounded absurd to me, it was very real to her. Don’t ridicule or shame your child for her fears.
  • Assure your child that his physical response to fear is normal. Occasionally, my son will become more fearful of his pounding heart and churning stomach than by whatever prompted the fear in the first place. Explain to your child that this “fight or flight” response is a result of the body’s release of adrenaline, and is completely normal. Once the fear passes, the symptoms will, too.
  • Encourage him to talk about what’s making him feel afraid. Sometimes even adults find things much less scary when they’re talked about aloud.
  • Realize that in many cases, fears are simply a phase that your child will outgrow in time. Fears of the dark, of monsters under the bed or of mama forgetting about her at daycare are all normal during early childhood. As kids get older, they may tend to fear things that could really happen, such as a house fire or a car accident.
  • If you have concerns about a fear being abnormal or excessive, ask your pediatrician about whether counseling is warranted. A friend has a son who is terrified of thunderstorms to the point that he spends hours shaking in terror during the summer, which, in Florida, usually includes daily storms. A teenager who is still afraid of goblins lurking under the bed is an example of a child exhibiting non-age-appropriate fears. A counselor can help by teaching your child strategies for coping with fears.

Fear is a normal and healthy response when it is warranted. For example, it’s good for kids to have a moderate amount of fear concerning moving cars on a busy road; these types of fears help to keep kids safe from harm. If a school-aged child is terrified to cross a parking lot, however, then that’s not a healthy fear that will keep him safe. Although it seems like an obvious distinction to you, it doesn’t to your child, whose brain and capacity for rational thought is not fully developed. Remain supportive and encouraging when dealing with childhood fears, but don’t be afraid to seek a professional’s opinion if you are concerned.

What are some strategies that you’ve used in helping your child deal with fears?

Comments (26)

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  1. Nikki Elkins says:

    My 3 year old grand daughter has a severe fear of the swings. This is something that came out of nowhere and you can not even mention it to her or she will have a complete meltdown.

  2. marthalynn says:

    This was great to read! I haven’t yet had to deal with too many fears of my son’s, but it helpful to know what is normal and what isn’t. So far, when he’s shown fear of things like bugs or the dark I’ve just remained calm and shown him how I’m not afraid. They get so much of their energy from us, so it’s important to remain composed!

  3. Liza says:

    Great post! My kids are grown now and the only fear I had to deal with with my first born are cockroaches.

  4. Karen Glatt says:

    I did not have my parents help me when I was young with childhood fears. I was a child of a large family, and a lot of the times, I had to fend for myself. But these are such great tips in how to deal with childhood fears. Even though I am an adult, I liked reading all of these ideas on how to deal with childhood fears. This article really helped me.

  5. Jennifer Mae Hiles says:

    I’m glad I read this for I am sure I will need to deal with this issue in the future. I remember being little and jumping from my bed to as far as I could for fear that a hand would reach out from under my bed and grab my leg!

  6. Ivan says:

    My kids are young and I’ve had to deal with this already. I’m glad to to know about a possible round 2 and understand why before it happens. Thanks for taking time to share

  7. Miranda W says:

    My son had monsters when he was little and we had a stuffed bear that played music. The monsters can’t get you if you have music playing.

  8. Sriram says:

    Nice information. May be useful for others.

  9. Stephanie Larison says:

    This was a very good read. My daughter is scared of monsters and robots at the moment. I try to reassure her there is nothing there, remain calm. She feeds off my energy, so this is very important. I wonder how long this faze will last for.

  10. Dorothy Boucher says:

    Great Post!!
    one of my grand-daughters was afraid of the washing machine, why we still have no clue.. but we worked with her as we read to her 5 feet away from the washer,( we would sit on the floor ) eventually after weeks she goes up to it n smacks it now,,LOLL everything all in time

  11. Kelvin Justine says:

    This was a great tip. Especially to those who have kids around the house and doesn’t know how to control their child during this episodes.

  12. denise smith says:

    wonderful post great tips thanks

  13. Ruth Hill says:

    My daughter has struggled with nightmares for a good share of her life. She has gotten better about it in later times, but I have tried to make sure to remove the sources of these fears–movies/TV/books. I don’t mean I have removed all of those. What I mean is that when she wants to watch something or read something, I make sure to think about whether this will be scary or not. If there is a chance that it will give her nightmares, I don’t let her watch or read it. It has been a struggle when I have to explain to her why she can’t watch something when her friends do, but invariably, it has helped to ease her nightmares.

  14. Kelly R. says:

    Very helpful post, as a mom of a 4 year old I am glad I read this.

  15. Mare Mitchell says:

    This will help a whole lot with my grandchildren.
    One of them is frightened of everything especially ‘clowns’.

  16. Theresa Reed says:

    Its true that the older kids have fears just like the younger kids. My youngest has so many fears but I think as he gets older he will out grow some of them. Thanks for sharing.

  17. Kayleen Considine says:

    I was afraid of the dark as a child, and it carried over into adulthood. Before I could go to sleep, I had to check the closet and the closet door always had to be closed. I had to check under the bed as well. I also had to have a light on someplace in the house or I couldn’t go to sleep. I got myself out of it by forcing myself to turn off the lights. At first I was scared to death and was sure some killer was waiting in the dark to get me. Little by little I got out of it, and now I can’t sleep if there is too much light in the room.

  18. wendy g says:

    i have dealt with my son he scared of dark and seeing shadows, thanks for the info

  19. wendy g says:

    i have dealt with my son he scared of dark and seeing shadows, thanks for the info

  20. My daughter never spoke of her fears and ended up having night terrors. She told us that if she talked about them, they became more real so she kept them in and tried to hid them. All fears will come out even if it is in night terrors. She is 20 now and still has those terrors from time to time.

  21. Bonnie says:

    Great post and tips. It will help me deal with my grandaughter’s fears

  22. My son had a really bad fear of wasps for a long time – he still kind of does but we got him over it by learning a lot about them – why they help us, what they do, how they have hives and families just like us, and why they sting.

  23. Nena Sinclair says:

    This is great info! I’m going to pass this onto my daughter as my 4 year old grandson is starting to be fearful of “monsters under his bed” and is having nightmares. When my kids went through this stage, I used to keep a bottle of scented water in a spray bottle labelled “Monster Be Gone” and spray it under the bed or closets before the kids went to sleep and it helped a great deal.

  24. bella says:

    My granddaughter use to fear ET it was so sad,but she did not wanted to hear the name

  25. Jane Ritz says:

    Childhood fears are difficult for parents and children to deal with. Children have fears throughout childdhood and need that parent assurance and love.

  26. Vicki Sewell says:

    Thank you for spotlighting this concern. Childhood fears are very real and can be distressing to both the child and the parents. To help in dealing with this, I created The Magnificent Sprinkles. The Sprinkles each have a specific power, NEA will make sure children are Never Ever Alone. SAM is Strong And Mighty, helping with confidence issues and CAZI will Catch And Zap Immediately all scary things under the bed and closet monsters. Last, but not least is LACI who provides Love And Caring Incessantly. It’s so rewarding to hear about the successes of The Magnificent Sprinkles.
    Keep up the good work, Ashley!

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