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Dealing with child?s fears

ALL CHILDREN have fears. Fear is an emotion like others such as love, happiness, anger, hurt and sadness and are a normal part of childhood. Certain fears are typical at certain ages. 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.?

india Updated: Nov 14, 2006 17:56 IST

ALL CHILDREN have fears. Fear is an emotion like others such as love, happiness, anger, hurt and sadness and are a normal part of childhood. Certain fears are typical at certain ages. 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.”

Interestingly, 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.

Common childhood fears
Six months: Stranger anxiety.
Eight months:  Separation from parent, falling.
One year:  Separation from parent, noises, animals, bath.
Two years: Separation from parent, toilet training, bath, bedtime
Three years: Loss of parent, toilet training, bedtime, monsters and ghosts, anyone who looks different than family, e.g., disability, beard, different skin color, etc.

Four years: Noises, animals, bedtime, monsters and ghosts, people who look different than family, loss of parent, death, divorce
5 years: Noises, animals, monsters and ghosts, getting lost, going to school, loss of parent, death, injury, divorce

Common fears
Fear of the dark: Fear of the dark is quite common - in adults too. If your child is scared of the dark you can indulge her by leaving her bedroom door open or leaving a night light on.

Fear of death: Some children are scared of death and dying. They cannot understand what happens to their pets or people who die. It is necessary for parents to explain to the child that the deceased has gone to heaven. On the other hand, parents can also say the person was old, weak and too tired to go on living. It is important that parents maintain a casual air and reassure their child that they will be around for years to come.

Fear of separation: Although separation anxieties are normal among infants and toddlers, they are not appropriate for older children or adolescents. They may represent symptoms of separation anxiety disorder. Children with separation anxiety may cling to their parent and have difficulty falling asleep by themselves at night.

Social phobia: Children with social phobias have a persistent fear of being embarrassed. In social situations such as during a performance, or if they have to speak in class or in public, get into conversation with others, or eat, drink, or write in public. Feelings of anxiety in these situations produce physical reactions like palpitations, tremors, sweating, diarrhoea, blushing, muscle tension, etc.

Helping the child
The following steps can guide you in helping your child deal with her fears and anxieties.
1 DO NOT expect your child’s fear to go away overnight.

2 DO NOT shame your child for his fears.

3 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.

l 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.

1 Recognise that the fear is real, however, trivial it may seem. It feels real to the child and it is causing her to feel anxious and afraid. Being able to talk about fears can help.

2 Never belittle the fear as a way of forcing the child to overcome it. It won’t make the fear go away.

3 Offer understanding of the fear -  ‘Loud noises, like thunder, can be scary.’ Provide helpful information - “Dogs bark because that is how they ‘talk’ and sometimes they bark a lot when they are happy to see someone.”

4 Help your child approach fears at his own pace - slowly. For example, allowing a child to decide when to put his face underwater when swimming gives him a sense of control and less fear.

5 Closely monitor what your child watches on television. Many programmes and films are too intense for young children and may encourage their fears.

6  Parents have to be very patient while dealing with separation anxiety in their children. If they plan to go away for a few days leaving their child in someone else’s care, they should give the child enough time to get accustomed to the new person

7 As with all emotions, fears become as children gain self-confidence, see their world as safe, and find that fear is normal and can be dealt with.

(The author is a psychologist and a professor of psychology and social work at BSSS. He can be contacted at
drvinaymishra@rediffmail.com)