Childhood fears are relatively normal up to a certain age. To one degree or another, a great number of children experience a fear of some sort. However, childhood fears are not equivalent to phobias or anxiety.
The importance of understanding childhood fears
During the various stages of childhood development, it’s common for children to experience fears. These fears are a part of their growth and pertain to a concrete evolutive stage. These evolutive fears include things like being afraid of the dark, strangers, or being alone.
Fear is a natural reaction among living beings and its purpose is to protect us against danger. This includes both immediate dangers and potential dangers that put survival at risk.
Most fears that children experience are common. They tend to be temporary and vary in intensity according to the child’s stage of development.
Childhood fears according to age
When children reach preschool age, these fears become more evident. Children at this age have a more developed imagination and their fears become more abstract. For example, they start to fear ghosts, monsters, witches, etc.
During elementary school – from about 7 to 11 years of age – common fears have more to do with reality. Children may be afraid of physical harm, illness, doctor’s visits, etc. For example, a child may also be afraid of his or her parents getting a divorce, or of not adapting socially.
During the pre-adolescent stage, the fears mentioned above start to diminish. During this new stage, fears having to do with school becoming much more predominant. For example, pre-teens fear rejection of their peers, lack of approval from adults, getting bad grades, or doing poorly in school.
When childhood fears turn into phobias
Childhood fears aren’t the same as phobias. Therefore, it’s important for parents to pay attention. There are symptoms that can indicate that a child is suffering from a phobia. If that’s the case, it’s important you come to help your child get the help he or she needs.
The term phobia refers to a constant, excessive and irrational fear. People can experience phobias regarding both situations or objects.
As for fears, children will look to protect themselves from perceived danger. When dealing with a phobia, the irrational fear is uncontrollable. Phobias limit children and can even be paralyzing.
Identifying the difference between a fear and a phobia can be difficult to do. Normally, phobias present themselves in the form of an emotion that arises from anxiety. This sensation appears when the child faces certain situations of specific objects.
It’s important to keep in mind that there are three types of phobias. The difference between each category has to do with the trigger behind the phobia:
- Generalized: The child experiences fear and anxiety in the face of varying situations.
- Specific: Specific phobias refer to the fear of situations having to do with animals or insects. They also include fears having to do with one’s natural surroundings, such as climatic conditions, medical interventions, etc.
- Social: In these cases, social situations produce anxiety or great discomfort in children. For example, a child may feel anxious when in large crowds or when interacting with strangers, etc.
“Most fears that children experience are common. They tend to be temporary and vary in intensity according to the child’s stage of development.”
How to help your children overcome their fears
It’s extremely important for parents to accompany their children and help them overcome their fears during childhood. Failure to do so can produce consequences even in adulthood. These consequences include a greater chance of suffering from general anxiety in the face of diverse challenges and situations.
To be safe, it’s best to seek help to take on the problem. A professional will recommend an adequate treatment plan to ease your child’s fears.
There are several guidelines that parents need to keep in mind to help their children in the home:
- Identify the situations or objects that generate fear.
- Communicate actively with your child. Listen to your child and provide support.
- Instill trust and security to your little one to help him or her overcome the fears and situations that produce frustration.
- Teach methods for controlling anxiety and give your child the tools for overcoming uncomfortable situations. For example, if your child is afraid of the dark, you can give him or her a stuffed animal that makes him or her feel safe.
- Set a good example and provide your child with a positive perspective regarding problems. Teach your little one to find possible solutions and treat them as a normal part of life.
In conclusion, it’s not only possible to help your children work through their fears. It’s also highly beneficial.
However, parents should not worry excessively about their children’s fears as long as they don’t turn into something more serious.