Posted: January 13, 2022
Children of all ages have fears, from babies to teens. And whether these fears are from real or imaginary places, they are nonetheless scary. Since our brains are wired to protect us, fears are a normal part of a child's development. Children will eventually outgrow fears but being knowledgeable about what fears are more common at certain ages will help parents navigate their children through them in the healthiest and most successful way. Having a plan to help children build bravery regarding their fears will help them learn to self-regulate and face other anxiety-producing events straight on.
When we think of fear, we generally consider it to be a bad thing. However, some fear is okay and can help children be cautious and set limits for themselves. But when fear begins to limit a child's ability to participate in normal daily activities and is persistent or overly intense, intervention with a professional may be needed. Normal developmental fears for infants are things such as loud noises and strangers. Toddlers are generally afraid of being separated from their parents. Young children usually fear things such as monsters in the closet and the dark. For older children, fears become more real-life and include things such as bad people and natural disasters. Teens begin fearing failure in school, social situations, and more significant worldly problems such as war.
When parents see their child scared, they generally want to fix the problem. However, often the comforting is excessive and can be counterproductive to the child learning to self-regulate. Instead, Dr. Rachel Busman says that parents should provide their child with "the scaffolding they need to stand on their own." To do this, parents must be uncomfortable with their child being uncomfortable. Validating feelings initially is essential, but then it's time to move on and help them become braver through practice.
How we comfort a child through their fears depends on their age. For babies and toddlers, parents should soothe them with hugs and soothing words. As children get older, asking them questions about their fear and verbalizing it will create an open dialogue for putting a plan into place for facing their fears. A stepladder approach is the best way to go about this. Slowly increasing exposure to events they are fearful of will help children practice while also having a parent's support. And some children will need a little more support than others due to their temperament.
Fear is a normal part of development, and as children grow, their fears change. Being knowledgeable of what fears are consistent with certain ages can help parents better support their children. Understanding this also helps parents balance the right amount of nurturing with a healthy push to face fears. By intervening this way, parents can prevent reinforcing the fear and help children learn to self-regulate.