Dealing with our children’s fears and phobias

Feeling of fear in childhood is a common phenomenon, as it can occur in 85% of children aged 2 to 6 years. Usually, most of their fears do not have a logical explanation, which also happens with adults’ fears.

Separating the terms “fear” and “phobia”…

Fear is a normal human emotion usually caused by the perception of real danger or an external threat. Fear is necessary, as it protects us from situations that can be dangerous for our lives.

On the other hand, a phobia is the excessive and irrational fear of the individual that continues to exist even though there is no real danger. Some bad or traumatic experience usually creates a phobia. Because of his phobia, the person is forced to cut himself off from activities related to that particular phobia and live with anxiety and panic when dealing with it.
What are the common fears of children of all ages?

0-4 years: At this age, children are afraid of being separated from their caregivers (and especially the mother), loud noises, animals or insects, bathing, or bedtime.
4-6 years: Toddlers may be afraid of monsters or ghosts, animals or insects, the dark, to get lost or lose their parents (outdoors), but also bedtime.

6-9 years: At school age, they may be afraid of separation, falls, noises, and new situations (e.g., the beginning of school).

9-12 years: Children of this age are afraid of war, robberies, social marginalization, and new situations.
Adolescence: Fear can be caused by new situations, robberies, and wars, parental divorce, and the beginning of love affairs.

Why does the child develop phobias?

• Parents’ fears and phobias: Usually, parents transmit their phobias to children. Even if they do not express them verbally, the child subconsciously perceives the anxiety they feel.
• Overprotectiveness: Parents or grandparents’ behavior towards the child may be overprotective. They might want to protect it from dangerous situations that do not exist.
• Threats to the child: Many times, parents resort to threats to calm down their child (e.g., “If you keep growling, the wolf will come to pick you up” or “If you do not eat, I won’t love you”), which frighten him and make him anxious.
• Parents’ conversations: Many times, parents discuss in front of the child about problems or the future, without realizing that, in this way, they frighten the child, who can give false dimensions to what he listens to and makes generalizations.
• Traumatic experiences: A tragic accident in which the child was present, (severe) physical injuries to the child or other persons, horrific situations, abuse, or even watching a movie with scary or violent scenes can create severe phobias or mental trauma to the kid. This category also includes fears that develop due to changes or tension in the home.

How to deal with the child’s fears?

• It is good to listen to the child’s concerns with understanding and attention. Take his fears seriously and do not make fun of him for what he is feeling. Make sure you are by his side, and you will face it together. Discuss your feelings and explain to him that we may all have been scared of something. Give him an example of something you were afraid of when you were young and how you dealt with it.
• It is crucial not to panic because, in this way, you magnify the child’s fears by paying too much attention to the slightest phobic reaction.
• You can find some fairytales with children who face different types of phobias, but they overcome them in the end. Please read them with the child and discuss the hero’s feelings and his actions to address his concerns.
• If you see the child panicking, feeling a heartbeat, breathing faster, or sweating, try to calm him down, take him in your arms, and encourage him to imagine something positive and beautiful.
• Try not to become overprotective or avoid or remove any stimulus that seems to scare the child. But do not do the opposite: don’t force him to contact the phobic stimulus since the child does not feel ready to face it.

Examples of dealing with fears and phobias:
Fear of the dark: You can have a red light on at night and/or give them a favorite item or toy. Sometimes, if you deem it necessary, stay with them in bed for a while until they fall asleep.
Animal phobias: It is beneficial for the child to see you have contact with the animal, play with it, take care of it, caress it. So, gradually, without pressure, the child will see and understand that the animal is not as dangerous as he thought.
Fear of the sea: Do not force the child to swim. You can enjoy your bath but do not insist on it coming with you; you can encourage it.

In general, it is good to show your children that you love them at every opportunity and to assure them that you will be by their side and support them. You can encourage them in every way to take the initiative and develop self-confidence, courage, and independence. A warm and peaceful family environment where children feel accepted, loved, and safe, protects them from the manifestation of fears and phobias.