Sometimes you wonder if your child is trying to score some extra cuddle time when he claims to be scared of the dark, so how do you know whether to tackle or dismiss your child’s fears? From tips on how to deal with your kid’s anxiety to learning how to separate true childhood fears to cries for attention, learn how to cope when terror strikes your youngster.
Signs of fear
Typical childhood fears at each age
Kids and anxiety is a part of growing up, but as your kiddo gets older, the nature of his fears and phobias change. According to Kidshealth.org:
- Babies exhibit “stranger danger” around people they don’t know
- Toddlers experience separation anxiety typically in their second year of life
- Preschoolers and kindergarteners have fears of monsters and ghosts
- Grade schoolers develop fears about reality-based occurrences that may happen, such as a natural disaster
Although not all children experience every average childhood fear within each age level, you should be concerned if the fear isn’t age-appropriate or interferes with your youngster’s ability to function.
In order to separate true childhood fears from ploys for attention, the key is to look for actual signs of distress. “A child is truly scared of a situation or object when he or she repeatedly avoids it, shows physical signs of fear and reports fearful, racing thoughts,” states Dr. Arthur Robin, director of psychology training at Detroit Medical Center (DMC) Children’s Hospital of Michigan. Physical signs of fear can include sweating, clinging, tears, disorganized behavior and more.
In addition, you also have to honestly evaluate your role in your kid’s anxiety level, advises Dr. Fran Walfish, child and family psychotherapist, author of The Self-Aware Parent. “Ask yourself the question, ‘Am I inadvertently rewarding/reinforcing my child’s behavior by paying too much attention?’ You may be reinforcing the exact behavior they want by rewarding your child’s complaints with over-attending.”
What to do about kids’ anxiety
When your kiddo says he’s scared about something, “It is always helpful to begin by treating your child’s expression of fear as real,” advises Dr. Walfish. But, be mindful not to make an isolated incident more significant than it was. “However, if children are just trying a ploy to delay bedtime or the like, by saying, ‘I’m scared,’ you can tell by their behavior that they aren’t upset or distressed — they are more demanding,” explains Dr. Tamar Chansky, PhD. In cases when your kid’s anxiety occurs on a regular basis, you may be able to kick these phobias to the curb by taking a good look at your child’s everyday activities and lightening the stress factors that may be feeding these fears.
“Fear is part of a process of growing up and with your help, encouraging your child to keep stretching his or her comfort zone, your child will be able to move through fears as they arise,” assures Dr. Chansky. However, in some cases, you may still be unsure whether to tackle or dismiss your child’s fears. “If you are unsure it’s always a good idea to consult with your child’s trusted pediatrician, school teacher/administrator, clergy, counselor, or therapist,” advises Dr. Walfish. While some childhood fears are age-appropriate and will be outgrown over time, when your kid’s anxiety seeps into other areas of your youngster’s life, it may be time to seek intervention.