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Managing your Child's Fears


Babies are unpredictable. In the early days of their lives they are like fearless, intrepid explorers. They go boldly into the great unknown. Then overnight these brave adventurers become scared of their own shadows. They develop the most irrational fears. They are scared of the most innocuous things. Sometimes you canít help but feel impatient when you see your child screaming hysterically at the sight of a dog or at the sound of the fire engine alarm. The whole thing seems inexplicable. 

You have to understand that your childís early fearlessness stems from the fact that ignorance is bliss. What they donít know canít hurt them. This is why the same child that cheerfully put her hand between the jaws of a dog, will later run away screaming at the sight of a barking dog. Somewhere along the way she has learnt that dogs can bite. As the child grows older, her imagination and curiosity develop side by side. She learns the potential dangers of certain actions and objects and the reasons why it is so. As she makes these connections, her awareness makes her cautious and sometimes frightened. 

It has been observed that these fears develop more often in children for whom feeding and toilet training have been contentious issues, or in those who have overprotective parents or who have been regularly warned or cautioned against doing certain things. On the other hand, some children are just born sensitive. 

Fear of the dark

Fear of the dark is one of the most common childhood fears. This is also a fear that adults can most easily identify with. The average adult is not as confident and even a little shaky in the dark. The lack of the ability to see clearly acts as a spur to the imagination leading most people to imagine that somebody is creeping up on them. If your child is scared of the dark you can indulge her by leaving her bedroom door open or leaving a night light on. Keep her well occupied with games and other activities throughout the day so that she has no time to brood on her fears. In time, she will realize that there is nothing to fear.

Tangible fears

Sometimes children develop fears of tangible things like dogs, cockroaches, the water, men in uniforms, etc. It is not necessary for the child to have had a frightening experience with any of the objects of their fears. It will certainly not help to coerce them to overcome their fear by forcing them to confront the objects of their fears. There is a good chance that dragging your screaming child towards a dog or throwing her into a swimming pool is going to backfire. Children most often outgrow these fears themselves. Sometimes they find that acting out the fear, like pulverizing a stuffed toy dog, is therapeutic. 

Fear of death

Some children are scared of death and dying. They cannot understand what happens to their pets or people who die. This is not surprising as adults themselves are confused by death. Adults themselves find it difficult to comprehend the finality of it all and its relation to life. So how do you explain it to a child? Some parents choose to explain death in religious terms. They tell their child that the deceased has gone up to God in heaven. On the other hand, parents can just deal with death by saying that the person was old, weak and too tired to go on living. It is important that parents maintain a casual air and reassure their child that they will be around for years and years to come. 

Penis anxiety

Children often exhibit a fearful response at the sight of a crippled or deformed person. This stems from the apprehension that it could happen to them too. The difference in male and female genitalia can be a cause for concern for children. Boys feel that the absence of a penis in girls could mean that something terrible happened and may be the penis fell off. In which case, this makes them vulnerable too. The same thought occurs to little girls. They feel that they have been deprived of this essential body part in mysterious circumstances. Parents should explain that this difference is a given and that men and women are just made differently. The lack of a penis does not make a girl inferior to a boy in any way.

Some children, around the age of two, scream in protest when their stool is flushed down the pot. These children realize that the stool is a product of their body and become quite possessive about it. That is why they sometimes evince fear about flushing the pot because they feel that they are losing a part of themselves.

Fear at the movies

Some parents think that their child would find a trip to the movies a fascinating experience. Picking out an appropriate animated feature, they sally forth with the child. Much to their astonishment, the child begins to wail when the wicked witch appears in the first five minutes and demands to be taken home. Parents must remember that children below the age of seven often find it difficult to separate fiction and reality because of their overactive imaginations. Thus, movies may not be a good idea for children in this age group. 

A positive approach

Always keep in mind that while you may not understand the childís fear, it is very real to her. Ridiculing the fear or chastising your child for being a coward is not going to make the situation any better. Encourage her to talk about her fear. You must instill confidence in her by assuring her that nothing bad is going to happen and that you are right by her side. While it is important to be sympathetic, do not overdo it. Your child may get the message that her fears are justified. 

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