Thursday, September 26, 2013

Finding the Silver Lining: When Your Children are Afraid

No one likes to be afraid. It is unpleasant and can sometimes even be so bad as to be debilitating. When children are afraid, it can be difficult as a parent to know how to help our children. Some fear is actually a good thing, however.

It starts when they are infants. Babies as young as my little Sophia (8 months) get upset when people they aren’t familiar with want to talk them, or (heaven forbid!) hold them. While this can be frustrating, especially if they are crying when Great Aunt So and So just wants coo over them – this is actually a healthy thing. They already know that the people that Mom and Dad have them around all the time are safe and they don’t know yet about these new people.

When they are toddlers, some kids can be absolutely fearless! They are more than happy to run as fast as they can – no matter what is going on nearby. Jump off a step that seems too high? No problem! As parents, this is the time when we experience the most fear! This is also the time when it is most important to help our children learn that, while it is great to have fun, it must be done safely.

One fear that almost every kid experiences is a fear of the dark. It is unknown, and they fear that just about anything could be lurking in it. For my son, his main fear was that spiders were lying in wait and were going to “get him” when the lights went off. It took quite a while, but he is now able to sleep with the light off, and he has overcome some of that fear.

So, not all fear is a bad thing. It is our job as parents to teach our children to navigate their fears and learn to function with them. For instance, we teach them that crossing the street can be done safely, by stopping and looking both ways. We teach them that many dogs are very friendly, but they should always ask for permission before petting one. We also show them that most people are very friendly, but that they should never walk up to people they don’t know.

With my son, we read about spiders. He learned that most of them are completely harmless to people (if not annoying) and that they could actually be quite helpful. When he found a spider, he knew that he could come to me and I would help him dispose of them (even though I share the fear of spiders – my love for him is greater than my fear!). Another thing that surprisingly helped him was his little sisters not being afraid of them. She was more than happy to squish them, and when he saw her taking care of them, he didn’t want to be one-upped by someone not only younger than him, but also a girl! I knew that he was finally getting over his fear, when one day I overheard him and his sister arguing over who would get to squish a spider they had come across!

This healthy fear – of dogs, fast cars, etc. - can help to keep them safe. We don’t want our children charging into the street without caring if a car is bearing down on them. We don’t want them going up to strange dogs, either. And I didn’t want my son picking up random spiders, especially when there known to be are poisonous ones in my area. The fear of strangers is a very good thing as well. We don’t want our children to walk off with someone who might mean them harm.

How have you helped your kids deal with fear?


  1. I would rather have my child be a little fearful than impulsive with no fear. My oldest seems to think things through a bit. He has normal 3 year old fears, but I think he is also starting to understand consequences. My 20 month old, on the other hand, is impulsive and will do anything. Granted, I think part of it is developmental but I know my oldest was not nearly as "risky" as my youngest.

    When my 3 year old does become fearful, we often sit him down and just talk it out. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. But I think it is important that our children can come and talk to us about their fears and what is bothering them.

    Erin K. (