Fear and worry are typical for people of all ages. In the case of children, these emotions can be helpful. They teach us about being cautious when necessary and how to develop coping skills. Ideally, they also teach us how to identify a false fear. In other words, a fearful child is nothing to be concerned about — until it is.
You see, any child can get caught in a cycle of fearfulness. An experience — real, imagined, or witnessed — can cause them to worry about their safety and the safety of their loved ones. If left unaddressed, this pattern can negatively shape a child’s perception and personality.
Common Fears to Address As Children Grow and Mature
Infants and Toddlers
Babies less than one year old can get quite anxious in the presence of strangers. As they grow into toddlers, this can morph into separation anxiety. You can prevent these fears from escalating by comforting the child and taking their concern seriously. A few specific suggestions:
- Encourage and help them to try new things.
- Hold your baby when a new person is present to ease the introduction.
- Slowly allow yourself to be apart from your toddler — assuring them that you will return soon and then demonstrating that to be true.
4 to 6 Years Old
This is a time of imagination and pretending. Therefore, they can grow frightened of the dark, loud noises, scary dreams, or what they fear is hiding nearby. Here are a few tips:
- Create a calming bedtime routine to help them feel safe as they drift off.
- Honor their fears but take specific steps together to demonstrate that, for example, there is no monster in the closet.
- If necessary, monitor and limit the content they consume.
7 to 11 Years Old
As they mature, they might fear real-life dangers, e.g., crime, natural disasters, accidents, divorce, and so on. They frequently learn about these topics from classmates and, of course, their devices. Some ideas:
- Never downplay such fears, but gently explain that they are not common.
- Help them prepare for daily challenges — from tests to doctors’ appointments — to guide them to start developing their own coping mechanisms.
- Stick to schedules and routines to give them a strong, safe foundation.
Preteens and Teens
This is when the fears become more social. Sure, schoolwork is getting tougher, but that can take a backseat to figuring out where they fit in. At this age, factors like social life, bullying, dating, athletics, and more emerge front and center. What can you do?
- The onus is on you to find the healthiest balance between intervening and letting them learn.
- Make it crystal clear that you support them and are available to talk at any time, but keep your own anxiety in check.
- Stay in touch with their teachers, coaches, etc., to check in about your child.
Should You Ever Worry About Your Child’s Fearfulness?
Some anxiety is normal. If you see your child struggling with daily life due to their fears, it could be the beginning of an anxiety disorder. Red flags to watch for:
- Withdrawing from social interactions
- Skipping school (or wanting to skip school)
- Acting out in a new way
- Low self-esteem that can manifest as self-harm
- Angry outbursts
- Being unwilling to try new things or meet new people
Do your best to communicate with your child. If this doesn’t seem to be working, make contact with a school counselor. Best of all, talk with an experienced mental health professional. They can help you discern between typical kid moodiness and something more. Also, if you feel your child’s behavior is triggering your own anxiety, a free consultation can be extremely helpful. Let’s connect for anxiety therapy or child therapy.