Things that go bump in the night. The bane of Miss Muffet's existence. A
teacher's harsh rebuke. What do they all have in common? Plenty: They're all
typical childhood anxieties and fears.
Nothing to worry (too much) about. But try telling that to your child! As a
parent, you can make a big difference in how well your child handles common
worries like these. Here are a few ideas that may help.
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Not all fear is bad. In fact, a little fear serves as an insurance policy.
"Without fear, we'd jump headlong into things we shouldn't," says Tamar
E. Chansky, PhD, author of Freeing Your Child from Anxiety. Chansky is
also director of the Children's Center for OCD and Anxiety in Plymouth Meeting,
Some fear is evolutionary in nature, says Chansky. For example, many
children -- and adults -- continue to fear things outside their experience.
Their brains are wired to protect them from snakes, for example, even though
the average person rarely encounters a slithery serpent, venomous or not.
Some children experience anxiety disorders, often a strong emotional
response to an intense experience. But mostly, a child's fears are a
predictable rite of passage.
Common Childhood Anxieties and Fears
Your child's "anxiety landscape" changes over time. Here are some of
the most common childhood anxieties he or she is likely to experience at
different stages of development.
In the ideal situation, an infant's world is framed by parental security and
a sense of calm. Anything that disrupts that -- a loud noise or a stranger, for
example -- creates fear, says Chansky. One simple thing you can do to maintain
calm is to establish a predictable routine. Also, minimize the numbers of
caretakers in your child's life. Strong bonding with your child -- through
regular touch, eye contact, and talking or singing -- creates a foundation of
trust, helping to inoculate your child against future anxiety, too.
Easing Fears in Preschoolers
As their world expands, preschoolers continue to fear new places and people.
New exposures bring fear of the unexpected, Chansky tells WebMD.
"Some of this is the result of concrete experiences, but some of it is
due to their developing imagination." Being able to imagine that there
really isn't anything lurking in that dark closet is a wonderful
accomplishment, she says. But, at this age, they haven't quite mastered the
skill enough to know how to calm themselves.
Kristin Lagattuta, PhD, assistant psychology professor at the University of
California at Davis, does research with preschoolers. She studies how they make
connections between the mind and emotions. Lagattuta explains that young
children around age 4 or 5 do OK telling the imaginary from the real -- unless
it is connected with something fearful. "When the emotion is real, then it
is hard for them to determine that the experience that goes with it isn't real,