Fear is a powerful emotion but necessary for a person: it accompanies self-preservation and helps avoid dangers. But many “wrong” fears hold down our minds, prevent us from living calmly and feeling happy. Such a “correct” fear is a human ally. Age-related fears that each person experiences at different stages of their development can both pass and transform, move into a deeper phase. The most dangerous in this sense are fears that arise in childhood and do not pass as the child grows up. They leave an indelible imprint on the rest of your life. Therefore, parents need to know what children’s fears are, their types, manifestation features, and ways of recognizing and dealing with them.
Types of Fears
In psychology, fears in the general sense are divided into age-related and neurotic ones. Age-related occurs in most children at a certain age as a reaction to mental and personal development. Their main characteristic is transience. They usually do not have pathological severity and disappear as the child develops.
Neurotic ones appear most often against the background of a traumatic situation. They can be fixed in the child’s mind for a long time, adversely affecting the formation of the character and personality of a growing person. Such fears arise more often in emotionally sensitive children, not self-confident, anxious, and have a rich imagination. In a more profound understanding, fears are divided into the following types:
- By the nature of the occurrence: situational and personal. The situation is associated with a dangerous situation (for example, a fall and injury). The person is determined by the characteristics of the child’s psyche (shyness, uncertainty) and often arises in an unfamiliar environment, a new team.
- By the degree of reality: real and imaginary. Natural fears are most often situational, imaginary, associated with the characteristics of the child’s psyche.
- By the depth of the course: acute and chronic. Acute fears arise in a specific situation, chronic – in children with a predisposition to anxiety.
Children’s fears that arise at a certain age indicate normal mental and mental development. In the absence of provoking conditions, they replace each other without negatively affecting the child’s psychological state.
- 0-1 years old. Natural fears are fear of loud, harsh sounds, strangers, changes in the usual environment, fear of heights, separation from mom.
- 1-3 years old. The fear of injury (due to increased physical activity), natural phenomena (thunder, strong wind, thunderstorm), the fear of being unloved and unnecessary to parents is added. Perhaps the fear of falling asleep due to nightmares (in very impressionable children), constipation, as an answer to the fear of losing part of oneself (in the form of intestinal contents). Often, children of this age are frightened by significant events (parental divorce, a younger brother or sister).
- 3-5 years old. Fears are associated with the awareness of the finiteness of life and the arrival of death. They may be afraid of a severe illness, an attack by bandits, bites of poisonous insects, fires, a flood, an enclosed space, darkness, monsters living in it, monsters, and other evil creatures.
Child’s Fears Reasons
It is normal to be afraid of something, according to the level of one’s development. Inappropriate behaviour of adults affects the child’s psyche and can become a trigger for the emergence of new fears. The child’s luggage of life knowledge and experience is still too small to explain certain phenomena logically. So the child learns to cope with his fantasies, to develop defensive reactions against them. Therefore, he turns on the imagination, thinks out them for himself sometimes in terrible colours, is impressed and gets hung up. Such situations develop unfavourably for the child.
Parents need to know what reasons can provoke the appearance of unnecessary fears:
- Specific cases. For example, a toddler may be terrified of wasps or dogs if a wasp or dog once bites him. Or be afraid of a confined space if you once got stuck in an elevator. But if he has never faced this, he will have nothing to fear.
- Education on constant harsh prohibitions or threats. (“You can’t walk through puddles! You can’t eat so many sweets!”, “If you don’t go to sleep, I’ll call a policeman! If you don’t obey, a monster will take you away!”).
- Restriction of the child’s physical activity. Fearing that the baby is injured, the mother does not allow him to run, jump, climb trees. Not finding a way out of energy can lead to increased anxiety and the appearance of phobias.
- Lack of communication with peers. The social limitation also leads to mental development problems.
- Peer conflicts, bullying.
- Frequent parental conflicts. The kid is afraid to become their cause, feels like the culprit of family discord.
- Parents’ fears. Suppose the baby is shown (even accidentally) the mother’s fear of mice or centipedes. In that case, the child will most likely take an example from her.
- Hyper-care in the family. The child will grow up insecure, irresponsible, unable to make decisions, not adapted to everyday life. Any difficulties will frighten him because he is not used to them. A person will grow up infantile, which often gives rise to all kinds of fears as an excuse to once again experience the care of adults.
The Power of Imagination
Separately, it should be said about the role of fantasy in consolidating fears in children. A long experience of fears, their transition into phobias is characteristic of anxious, suspicious, insecure, impressionable, pessimistic, dependent and influenced children. It is in such cases that innocent childhood fantasies quickly acquire obsessive chronic features. And children fantasize, especially at preschool age, for any reason (this is a natural stage in their psychological development): they heard a terrible fairy tale or horror story from a peer, watched a frightening cartoon or movie, read a book with a terrible plot, played a bloody computer game, heard something in the conversation of adults. The developed imagination works continuously. Frightening shadows from the lamp, curtains, blankets, the ominous light of the full moon, mysterious sounds outside the window – it is in such colours that an impressionable baby perceives the world. And now his life is filled with ghosts, werewolves, aliens, monsters and monsters.
Specific Features of Fears
Children manifest their fears in different ways, depending on age and characteristics of emotional development. It can be an intense fear, a constant fear of something, or an affective fear – which arose against emotional instability. He is the strongest, can manifest itself in the form of shock, horror, hysterical crying.
A child can complain to adults that he is afraid of something or keep everything to himself, especially if he is scared of being misunderstood, hearing reproaches, ridicule and condemnation. But alarming symptoms will still be present. The kid becomes shy, withdrawn, nervous, numb, may fall asleep poorly or sleep lightly, and constantly cling to his mother.
Latent anxiety, which does not find a way out and understanding, is the most dangerous for the delicate child’s psyche. She most often leads to the appearance of a lingering fear, which the baby does not control. This leaves an imprint on the formation of the child’s character, interferes with productive communication with others, and reduces adaptability to changes in the external environment. Ultimately, chronic fears affect the child’s future: socialization, relationships with the opposite sex, colleagues at work.
Both the emergence of children’s fears and their overcoming most often depend on adults. What can parents do to help their child overcome or prevent fears?
- Treat your baby with understanding and empathy. You cannot shame the child, call it a coward, or punish it.
- Talk to your baby about what scares him in a friendly way without focusing on phobias. Give him your example: what were you afraid of in childhood, and how you won over this fear.
- Show that he has nothing to fear next to you.
- Do not deliberately force yourself to face the object of fear (go into a dark room, for example).
- Do not discuss scary stories (about illness, death, disasters) in his presence.
- Control what and how long the kid watches on TV, what he plays on the computer.
- Don’t broadcast your fears to him.
- Show your child the real dangers of life, but in an accessible way, using specific and understandable examples. Explain when it is dangerous and valuable (for example, fire can burn or cause a fire, but it provides warmth and the ability to cook food).
That is, the child must have enough objective information about potential threats and treat them adequately. Prevention of fears in children is fostering in their self-confidence, independence, and an optimistic attitude to life. When parents do not cope with the child’s phobias independently, he continues to be afraid. Then a specialist will come to the rescue: a psychotherapist.
The emergence of fears in a child is an inevitable sign of his development. But when they take on stable, obsessive forms, interfere with complete product, rest, self-realization, adults should come to the rescue: parents or psychologists. And often, correctional work requires a lot of effort, both of them. But the mental health of our children is worth it.