|All children have fears at some point in their life and it is usually considered to be a normal part of development. These fears are only abnormal if they are persistent or keep the child overly preoccupied with the subject that is feared, so that it interferes with normal activities, if the child can not be reassured or distracted away from the fear (becoming a phobia), or if it is an irrational fear. Whether or not a fear is irrational depends on a child's age and developmental level. For example, it is normal for a 2 year old to be afraid of sitting on the potty, but it would be irrational for an 8 year old to have the same fear.
Preschool age children normally have simple fears of animals and insects, monsters and ghosts, getting lost, divorce, loss of a parent and bedtime. They may also develop a fear after a triggering event, such as falling in the water or being chased by a dog. They may also increase during times of stress (new baby, moving, divorce, etc).
Some children are more fearful of things, even common things, than others and this is usually a function of his type of temperament. Also, children who have parents that are very anxious or fearful, or who tend to overreact to things, often have children who have the same reactions in similar situations.
Some tips on dealing with your child's fears include:
- Respect your child's feelings and fears. It is not helpful to use put downs, such as 'your being a baby for being afraid of that,' or to try and ignore the things that he is afraid of.
- Ask him why he is afraid and then talk about it. This can be especially helpful if there was a triggering event.
- Don't be overprotective and let him avoid all of the things that he is afraid of, but you also don't want to try and force your child into doing something he is afraid to do.
- Don't overreact, so that your extra attention reinforces your child's reactions.
- Give your child support as he learns to master his fears. For example, if your child is afraid of the water, it is not helpful to force him into the pool and keep him in the water as he is screaming to get out. Instead, you may initially avoid going swimming altogether and then sit down by the side of the pool so that he can see other children swimming. You can then use modeling, getting in the water by yourself and letting him watch from distance, to teach him that he doesn't have to be afraid of the water. Next, if he is ready, let him hang his feet in the water, or start off in a kiddie pool. Give lots of praise as he is gaining mastery over his fear and eventually move to the point where you can hold him in the water with his floaties on. Keep your initial goals small and slowly move to the goal of him swimming in the pool (with adult supervision).
- Remind him of other things or times in the past that he was afraid of, and for which he is no longer has fears.
- Again, reassure and comfort your child as you help him to face his fears. In the long run, it is also not helpful to teach your child that it is alright to avoid everything that he is afraid of.
If a fear seems like it is turning into a phobia, with your child not responding to repeated reassurances or not being able to be distracted away from the fear, especially if the fears are interrupting his development or daily activities, then you should seek professional treatments from a child psychologist.