What Is Fear? Fear is a natural, powerful, and primitive human emotion. A survival instinct upon which a human’s life is dependent. So, when does fear starts to develop and evolve into either a beneficial or harmful emotion? Fear is something one is born with or is their childhood fear and takes form into different things, it can either be from darkness, strangers, spiders, or worst-case scenario a trauma.
Children have an intangible and creative mind which can grow room for unnecessary thoughts. Scolding or nagging can cause a child to develop anxiety issues which can later develop into a disorder and mental illness. Proper parent support can help a child overcome their fears but even a small ignorance can take a bad turn.
Fear is something which shouldn’t be feared of, quite philosophical. It plays a pivotal role in a child’s life. The main source of strength of a person comes from their fear, but it all depends on how well they managed to deal with it and whether they went on the right path or not.
Fear develops into anxiety and anxiety leads to an empty road. Treatment at an early age and with proper measure even a phobia can be cured since every problem has a solution in modern society.
Origins of Childhood fear in Different Age Groups
Some childhood fear is more fearful than others. Contributing factors may include:
- Genetic susceptibility – some children are generally more sensitive and emotional in their temperament
- At least one anxious parent-children learn how to behave from watching their parents
- Overprotective parenting – a dependent child is more likely to feel helpless and this can lead to generalized anxiety
- Stressful events – such as parental separation, an injury, or hospital stay.
- Common fears for babies
Once a baby has reached six or seven months of age, they have formed strong attachments to their parents or caregivers. Separation from their ‘special people’, even for short periods, can cause considerable anxiety and plenty of crying. Similarly, many babies prefer the exclusive company of their special people so much that they develop a fear of strangers for a while.
- Common fears for toddlers
Children aged around two to three years are only just starting to learn how to cope with their strong feelings, such as anger. A common fear for a toddler is that they will be overwhelmed by powerful emotions.
Toddlers have a limited understanding of the size and may develop seemingly irrational fears, such as falling down the plughole or toilet.
- Common fears for children of primary school age
As a child learns more about the world, the list of things they fear tends to grow. Some fears are real and some are imaginary. Common fears include fear of the dark, burglary, war, death, separation or divorce of their parents, and supernatural beings (such as ghosts and monsters).
Causes of Fears
The sources of fear may change as the child matures. For example, a fear of the dark or of monsters under the bed may give way to fears of burglary or violence. The family should not tease the child for being afraid or forcing them to confront frightening situations.
Kids can develop anxiety disorders for many reasons, including:
- Biological Factors
The brain has special chemicals, called neurotransmitters, that send messages back and forth to control the way a person feels. Serotonin and dopamine are two important neurotransmitters that, when “out of whack,” can cause feelings of anxiety.
- Family Factors
Anxiety and fear can be inherited. Just as a child can inherit a parent’s brown hair, green eyes, and nearsightedness, a child can also inherit that parent’s tendency toward excessive anxiety. Besides, anxiety may be learned from family members and others who are noticeably stressed or anxious around a child. For example, a child whose parent shows immense fear of spiders may learn to fear spiders, too.
- Environmental Factors
A traumatic experience (such as a divorce, illness, or death in the family) or even just a major life event like the start of a new school year may also trigger the onset of an anxiety disorder.
How to Deal with the Kids in Fear?
Here are few steps a parent or any family member can take towards their child:
- Talk with your child about their anxieties, and be sympathetic. Explain to them that many children have fears.
- Do not belittle or ridicule your child’s fears, particularly in front of their peers.
- Do not try to coerce your youngster into being brave. It will take time for them to confront and gradually overcome their anxieties. You can, however, encourage (but not force) them to progressively come face-to-face with whatever they fear.
- Help your baby get used to a new person while you hold it and let it feel safe. Soon, the new person won’t seem like a stranger anymore.
- Let your toddler be apart from you for short times at first. When you need to part from your child, say you’ll be back, give a hug and a smile, and go. Let your child learn that you always come back.
- Limit the scary images, movies, or shows kids see. These can cause fears.
- Help kids and teens learn to prepare for challenges, like tests or class reports. Let them know you believe in them.
Treatment of Childhood Fear
- Most kids cope with normal fears with gentle support from their parents. As they grow, they get over the fears they had at a younger age.
- Some kids have a harder time and need more help with fears. If fears are extreme or keep a child from doing normal things, it might be a sign of an anxiety disorder.
- Children can be taught how to manage their anxiety, or panic attacks and parents can learn helping strategies.
- As part of the treatment plan for fear or anxiety, many therapists suggest exposing your child to the source of their anxiety in small, non-threatening doses.
- Your child will become a little less sensitive to the source of their fear each time they confront it. Ultimately, the child will no longer feel the need to avoid the situation that has been the basis of their fear.
- While this process sounds like common sense and easy to carry out, it should be done only under the supervision of a professional.
- Sometimes psychotherapy can also help children become more self-assured and less fearful. Breathing and relaxation exercises can assist youngsters in stressful circumstances too.
Ques. How does fear affect child development?
Ans. Children who have had chronic and intense fearful experiences often lose the capacity to differentiate between threat and safety. This impairs their ability to learn and interact with others because they frequently perceive a threat in familiar social circumstances, such as in their home or neighborhood.
If the child is exposed to a constant state of terror from abuse and violence, the optimal growth and functioning of the brain get seriously hampered. Repeated trauma develops a persistent state of fear. Chronic stress can activate the body’s fear responses and form permanent memories which form the basis of a child’s response to their environment.
Chemicals crucial for the developing brain also take a toll. The toxic stress hormones affect the growth of both these structures. The specific stress hormone – Cortisol, rises concerning the level of trauma the child undergoes and becomes a cause of depression and aggression later in life.
Ques. How can one tell if a child is experiencing a phobia or just going through a phase?
Ans. It’s important to distinguish phobias from normal childhood fear, also known as transient fears, which are temporary.
Many kids struggle with a specific fear of being physically separated from their parents or other family members. This is known as a separation anxiety disorder (SAD).
However, your child may be suffering from a phobia, and not a transient fear, if they:
- experiences a particular fear for six months or longer
- feels such an extreme degree of fear and anxiety that daily activities, school life, family relationships, and friendships are disrupted
Ques. Can one prevent a child from developing a fear or anxiety?
Ans. There’s no known way to prevent fear or anxiety. However, one can make a significant difference for their child by being proactive and seeking the help of a trained clinician at the first sign of symptoms.
There are signs of anxiety difficulties that parents can notice when a child’s fears seem out of proportion to reality and begin to interfere with life.
The absence of caregivers, neglect of basic emotional and physical needs, and exposure to other stressful environments can push a child’s anxiety response too far.
In anxiety disorders, warning circuits in the brain can be too sensitive, causing worry or fear responses in safe situations.
Ques. How can one tell if a child is suffering from social anxiety, or is just shy?
Ans. A shy child may feel uneasy when meeting new people or getting up in front of the class, but won’t take extreme measures to avoid these situations and won’t experience significant disruptions in their day-to-day lives.
By contrast, a child with social anxiety has a degree of fear so severe that it might limit or otherwise interferes with daily activities, affects family relationships, impacts the ability to function at school
Ques. At what age should a child stop being afraid of the dark?
Ans. Children are most often afraid of the dark starting at around the age of about 2 through the preschool years, although it can appear in older children as well. Fear of the dark usually lasts for a few weeks to a few months.
There is no specific age to when a child should stop being afraid of the dark since it is a common fear which has been imprinted in our brain for centuries.
Early men were afraid of the dark which led to the discovery of fire. Hence having fear is not an issue but the way one can overcome it with proper guidance is what matters.