Children are scared of things. That isn’t a surprise. But what are normal things for kids to be anxious about? When should parents think about talking to a doctor about their kids fears, and when can they rest assured that what their child is going through is developmentally appropriate?
Normal Anxieties & Fears
The fact your child is afraid of things is nothing you need to be afraid of. Here is a list from Focus on the Family Canada of totally normal, age-appropriate fears organized by age.
- Infants & Toddlers – Separation from parent(s), strangers, loud noises
- Ages 2-4 – Everything listed above plus large animals, darkness, sleeping alone, monsters
- Ages 5-6 – Everything listed above plus bugs, getting lost, thunder, injury, illness, death
Strategies for Normal Fears
Here are some tips when you’re helping your child manage their fears.
- General comforting goes a long way. Simply letting your little one know you’re close and there to protect them will assuage a lot of their anxiety.
- If your child can communicate their fears to you, make sure and listen carefully to what they are trying to say. You may have to “dig” a little to get the real reason if they still can’t speak or communicate very well. Remember to ask questions, too. Your child may say they’re afraid of the dark, but what they’re actually afraid of is being left alone. Asking the right questions can help you get to the root of their anxiety.
- Social anxiety is normal. Work in tiny steps to introduce new people and places. Let your child learn that you always come back.
- Take it slow. Building courage takes time. Even if it’s frustratingly slow, don’t force your child to do something they are scared of. That will only make their anxiety worse and diminish their trust in you. At the same time, avoiding the thing that makes them anxious altogether doesn’t help either. Again, take it slow.
- Keep the scary images at a minimum. Frightening movies or media can either reinforce an existing fear or give them a brand new one.
When Fears Are Concerning
If you’re concerned about your child’s anxieties and fears, ask yourself these questions.
- Are my child’s fears lasting past the normal age? (See the list above.)
- Do my child’s fears keep them from doing everyday things? That would include being apart from you, sleeping by themselves, or going to school or public places.
- Does my child have tantrums when confronted with their fear?
- Does my child get stomachaches, headaches, or dizzy spells over their anxieties?
If you answered yes to one or several of those questions, it’s time to involve your pediatrician or mental health professional. These reactions could be pointing toward a more serious anxiety disorder that you’ll need extra help addressing.
Thankfully, most children outgrow their anxieties as they grow. Normal development and your support will help your child manage their fears, communicate better about what’s bothering them, and overcome their anxieties. Remember … even adults get scared about things! Have patience and compassion for your child as they work through theirs.