Common Fears for Babies and Toddlers
Did you see the episode of “America’s Funniest Home Videos” when the family won $10,000 for a clip of their toddler girl completely freaking out over her own shadow? The child ran around an outside parking lot screaming, but she just couldn’t shake that darn, dark ghost-like thing at her feet. Web chatter on that clip ran the gamut from “that was the funniest thing…” to “that was the saddest thing I ever saw.”
When I saw the clip, my first thought was, “Eli used to be scared of his shadow sometimes too. I wonder if we could have made some money off of it.” Then I mentally kicked myself in the backside for thinking such a thing.
Admit it. Sometimes our children’s fears seem a bit outrageous, and dare I say it, funny. But those fears can be very serious to them, so as parents, we should take care in how we respond.
Heather Palmer, as a mother of four (ages 5 to 12) and a recent Master of Social Work graduate, has both experience and research-backed knowledge on addressing childhood fears.
“It is important to remember that all fears come from the unknown. Whatever those fears look like depends upon how we react,” Palmer said.
Palmer and her husband, Steve, use a talk-it-out approach to help their children process and overcome their fears.
“We have the philosophy that no child is too young to have a conversation with,” Palmer said. “When my oldest child was three years old, I remember very vividly telling him to ‘use your words’. All children want to talk. So find them at their level and allow them to do just that.”
But what do you talk about?
Palmer’s youngest child, Reese, was in the midst of a fearful stage as Heather and I spoke.
“She is afraid of the dark! She is afraid to walk through the house if it is dark… she is afraid to go to bed without a light on… she is afraid to sleep by the window in her bedroom…” The list went on.
Reese is not the only one. Other Palmer children, though older and with their own unique personalities, have fears and anxieties too. Heck, we adults even have a few or more, don’t we? So the conversation begins with honesty.
“Be empathetic about their experience, and acknowledge your child’s feelings. But also be truthful about what is real and what is made up,” Palmer advised.
So if Reese is scared of the dark because she thinks there are monsters out there, her parents let her know that they understand that she’s afraid, then they confidently tell her, “There are no monsters.”
In this way, they are honest while not discounting that there are indeed “things out there that [children’s] little imaginations run with.” Instead, encourage their imaginations to run wild about things like visits to Grandma’s house and favorite summer memories. Or depending on the child’s age and stage, Palmer suggests you may even preemptively discuss fear-producing scenarios with your child so that he can be better equipped to face them when they actually arise. Like that darn, persistent shadow.
“At any stage, fears are a valid part of life,” Palmer said. “The key is to learn how to successfully overcome those fears and become a wiser person for it.”
Normal age-related fears
Typically, children fear different things at different ages. For example, babies go through a period when they’re afraid of people they don’t know. Preschoolers are often scared of the dark or of spiders. School-age children might be afraid of staying home alone or of burglars.
Here are some common age-related fears: