Anxiety and Fear

Dealing with Anxiety and Fear in Children

26 August 2022
Posted by: Chelsea

Anxiety and Fear in Children: Children have anxieties and fears. These things change in their nature as the years pass and in large part, are perfectly natural and a normal part of childhood development.

Even so, having techniques to help in dealing with anxiety and fear in children is essential.

Why dealing with anxiety and fear in children is necessary

Babies can become frightened. Loud noises, bright lights, strangers and sudden movements, can all shock a baby and generate anxiety and fear response – often involving screaming and crying.

That can easily carry on into the earlier toddler years but the fear may become more widespread and include sleeping in the dark, strangers and being left unattended by a parent or familiar care provider.

By the pre-school and earlier school ages, some of those fears may have reduced or disappeared but they will most likely be replaced in some children by fear of monsters and ghosts, mythological creatures, possibly some pets or other animals/insects and perhaps school itself.

Worry is different. Most experts believe that it’s unlikely that babies and younger toddlers ‘worry’ in the sense we understand it. Worry involves projecting your fears into the future and typically children seem, as far as we know, to develop that ‘future speculation’ capability only once they’re established toddlers or into their pre-school years.

In some respects, worry may be more damaging than fear because it can be hard for parents to dissipate it until the event has come and gone.

Worrying might include starting at school, lessons, sports and play activities, knowing a parent will be away for a time and so on. Around this age is also when children really start to grasp what death means and some even very young children may worry about it for themselves or their loved ones.

Origins

Unsurprisingly, there is no real consensus as to where a child’s capacity for fear and worry comes from.

It appears in part to be innate and might well have links to our basic survival instincts. However, some argue that much of it is learned from parental behaviours, children’s stories, nursery rhymes and TV programmes etc. The surrounding stability and reassurance provided by varying levels of home life might also be an influence.

There can also be very substantial differences in fear and worry levels from one child to another. The reasons for this are not clear other than as may be attributable to the above. Some have suggested that the greater a child’s imagination and ability to create future scenarios in their head, the more likely they may be to worry.

Indications

Minor signs of fear and worrying are typically nothing to worry about. They’re a developmental phase most children go through and will eventually cope with as they age and rationalise the world around them.

Some indications might suggest some professional advice is required if a toddler or pre-schooler is:

  • seemingly terrified of anything new, however innocuous;
  • irrationally afraid of multiple things, like chairs, windows or pillows;
  • apparently depressed and always talking about things going wrong in the future;
  • constantly and unnecessarily pessimistic about outcomes.

How to cope

Some good home techniques for dealing with anxiety and fear in children include:

  • talking to them about the anxiety and fear. Explore it analytically and remember to listen well. Never dismiss the child’s expressions as “silly” or “nonsense” but instead, treat it as a perfectly normal fear they should not be embarrassed about;
  • go with them to look at the thing concerned and explore it together if it is an object;
  • if it is a forthcoming place or event (e.g., separation anxiety), go with them the first time and show them it’s all OK. Most pre-school care centres will happily oblige;
  • in the context of anxiety about the world around them, talk it through but make sure your child also hears plenty of good and positive news about the world they live in.

If none of these seems to work, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor or a child development specialist.

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