What are childhood fears?
Fear is a reactive emotion that develops with a sudden threat or a dangerous object or situation. Period-specific developmental fears can be seen in children during the developmental process. Before intervention, it is necessary to distinguish whether these fears are normal or extreme. Here, the severity, duration and quality of the fears are evaluated. The most important thing is how much it affects the child’s functionality in daily life. Unlike normal fear, pathological fear is a more intense, widespread and long-lasting fear that negatively affects the functionality and quality of life of the child. Here, while determining the pathological fear, the child’s developmental period, mental capacity and the environment in which he lives are also evaluated.
Especially in the preschool period, there are many unknown and new things for children, and they give children fear. A child who feels powerless may increase his fear by exaggerating and distorting events. In the developmental process, as children develop their skills and feel stronger, they gradually begin to overcome their fears. Many of the fears in this period are developmental and do not significantly affect the child’s life and do not persist for a long time.
Developmental fears of childhood
In the 2-3 year period, children are afraid of loud, sudden and different sounds. At the age of 3-4, fears of darkness, animals, thieves and imaginary objects (monster, ghost, fairy, movie characters, etc.) are added to the child’s fear vocabulary. During this period, the child may be alone and have trouble falling asleep. They feel in danger where parents are not present.
For children, darkness is a visual ambiguity. He can exaggerately visualize things he cannot see in the dark. This creates a perception of threat and danger in the child. They may have fears that monsters will come out of the closet, especially at bedtime, and that there may be insects under their bed.
There may be resistance to sleeping and going to bed at night due to fears. It is normal for children between the ages of 3-6 to behave like leaving the door open at night and turning on the light in the room to feel safe. Night fears can manifest as disturbing dreams. The things he worries about during the day turn out to be nightmares.
At 5-6 years old, children begin to fear more concrete things. They may think that their parents will grow old, get sick, or die. There may be an increase in fears during this period. They may be influenced by the stories they hear, especially from the movies they watch. After these ages, there is usually a decrease in fears, but from time to time old fears flare up.
What are the causes of childhood fears?
The attitudes of parents are also very important in the development of fears. Research shows that children internalize their parents’ fears. Sometimes the overly controlling parental attitude also supports the fears. The child, who is constantly warned of danger, believes that there are too many threats around and that he should be afraid.
The methods parents use during discipline can also affect fears. Threats such as being shot, abandoned or taken to the police increase the child’s fears if he misbehaves. Sometimes, negative, traumatic events experienced by the child can increase fears. Here again, the parent’s attitude towards the event is effective. Parental attitudes will also help in overcoming the fears associated with these events.
Genetic and temperamental characteristics are another factor that plays a role in the development of fears. Children with a timid temperament are more sensitive to both parental attitudes and stimuli that may create fear.
Treatment for childhood fears
These fears, which are seen during developmental periods, are considered normal as long as there is no increase in duration and severity. Developmental fears come and go quickly and do not affect the child’s daily life.
The attitude of the parent regarding the fears that are more than normal and cause distress in daily life is important. If the child’s daily life, sleep, school and friendship relations are affected and take a long time, it is necessary to consult a specialist.
How should we approach the child who has fears?
As parents, we must accept that fears are part of the developmental stage.
Be receptive to the child’s fears and listen. What is there to be afraid of, what a cowardly child you are, rejecting and offending behaviors increase the child’s fears and cause him to withdraw.
Let him express his fears. Talk in detail about why you are afraid and what can happen about your fear. Drawing pictures and writing are also useful methods. Do not show any behavior such as mocking or belittling while talking about it. In this way, he will feel more relaxed and safe.
Be wary of things that can increase the child’s fear. The videos he watches, the movies, the games, the stories he listens can be the source of his fear. Block access to them
Be mindful of the methods you use to discipline the child. Threats of being left alone, of physical harm, may seem to hinder, but do not discipline, the child. On the contrary, it increases their fear and anxiety.
Do not be overprotective of your child. Encourage them in what they can achieve and increase their self-confidence.
If there are problems with sleep, create a sleep routine that will relieve tension before sleep. In the meantime, be open to listening to him. Here you can practice relaxing techniques such as breathing exercises and imagining a beautiful place.
Do not suddenly expose him to what he fears. Gradually start from easy and follow a path towards difficult.
Improve your parent-child communication, play games.
If the fears have begun to affect the daily life of the child and the family, if they continue to increase, consult a specialist.