Facts about children's fears
- Like adults, when children feel a sense of control they have less fear.
- Fears are a normal part of childhood. Certain fears are typical at certain ages.
- Fear is real to your child, so take your child's fears seriously.
- Some fears develop with independence. For example, when a child begins to walk and understands he can leave mom, he realizes mom can leave him as well.
- A child's surroundings can increase fears, such as unfamiliar places, crowds, shadows from night lights, etc.
- Sometimes a child's fear is based on a lack of knowledge. "The water goes down the drain, so I might disappear down the drain."
- Often, a child's fears are the same as his parent's.
- Fears can be increased by a parent's reaction or comments. For example, if a parent screams at the sight of a spider, the child will probably do the same.
- Children take what you say literally, such as, "The policeman will get you if you don't get in your car seat", or when a stranger says, "You're so cute I'm going to take you home with me." Be careful about referring to death as sleep--children may be afraid of going to sleep.
What to avoid when dealing with your child's fears
- DO NOT expect your child's fear to go away overnight.
- DO NOT shame your child for his fears.
- DO NOT force your child to face his fears. This approach will make the situation worse. For example if your child is afraid of dogs, forcing him to pet a dog will frighten him even more.
- Try not to tell your child that they will be a "big boy" or a "big girl" when they overcome their fear. This puts too much pressure on the child.
How to help your child with fear
- Offer understanding of the fear. For example, "Loud noises, like thunder, can be scary."
- Provide helpful information about the feared item or situation. For example, "Dogs bark because that is how they "talk" and sometimes they bark a lot when they are happy to see someone."
- Read a special book, like There's a Nightmare in My Closet by Mercer Mayer, and talk about the feared object or situation.
- Help your child approach fears at his own pace, which will probably be slow. For example, allowing a child to decide when to put his face under water when swimming gives him a sense of control and less fear.
- Closely monitor what your child watches on television. Many programs and movies are too intense for young children and may encourage their fears.
Most common early childhood fears
||Separation from parent, falling
||Separation from parent, noises, animals, bath, doctor
||Separation from parent, toilet training, bath, bedtime, doctor
||Loss of parent, toilet training, bedtime, monstors and ghosts, anyone who looks different than family, e.g., disability, beard, different skin color, etc.
||Noises, animals, bedtime, monsters and ghosts, people who look different than family, loss of parent, death, divorce
||Noises, animals, monsters and ghosts, getting lost, going to daycare, loss of parent, death, injury, divorce
Chart adapted from When Your Child Is Afraid by Schachter & McCauley
For more information
call your County Health Department.
MCH Early Childhood Development and Parent Education Program