Liz Pearce, Director of Parent Engagement
Children’s Museum of Richmond
Most childhood fears follow a regular pattern related to the child’s age and developmental stages. Interestingly, as children mature and have increased capability for memory, imagination and ability to use language, fears may become even more of a problem. Most fears are related to the child’s ability to differentiate between “good” and “bad” events and objects. Children often fear “imaginary” or unknown dangers while ignoring very real hazards or dangers.
How do I Know My Child is Afraid?
Children, particularly young children, cannot always describe their fears. Parents can look for common signs of fear, such as changes in:
• Activity level
• Speech patterns
• Sleep patterns
• Toileting behavior
• Body coordination
• Emotions or temperament
What are Typical Fears at Different Ages?
1 Year: separation from parents, strangers, fear of injury
2-3 Years: fear of animals, monsters, darkness
4-5 Years: fear of animals, “bad guys,” fear of bodily harm
6 Years: fear of supernatural, fear of thunderstorms, refusing to go to school
7-8 Years: fears about family problems
9-11 Years: school performance fears, personal appearance, death and dying
12-15 Years: fear of “being different,”fears of rejection, isolation, failure on tests
16-18 Years: fear of adult responsibilities, fear of inadequacy, separation
Here’s What to Do:
• Listen to and accept the child’s expression of fear.
• Allow the child to experience some mildly fearful situations while you give reassurance and encouragement.
• Set an example: talk about how you deal with fear. “I was afraid when...(something happened to me) and this is what I did to feel better about it...”
• Do not use scary threats with your child like: “If you don’t eat your peas, the monster will eat you.”
Positive Messages for All Children
· “It’s okay to be afraid.” (this reduces feelings of guilt or shame)
· “Being afraid doesn’t last forever.”(share hopefulness and your belief that things will be better)
· “It’s okay to talk at home about being afraid.” (this helps avoid exaggerated fears)
· “It’s also okay not to be afraid.” (show other ways to react if fear is not appropriate or helpful)
· “You can handle it when you are ready.”
· Always listen when your child is scared and use encouraging statements so he or she will feel safer.