Understanding Childhood Fears and Anxieties
Fears are common:
- According to one study, 43% of children between ages 6 and 12 had many fears and concerns.
- A fear of darkness is one of the most common fears in this age group. So is a fear of animals, such as large barking dogs. Some children are afraid of fires, high places or thunderstorms. Others, conscious of news reports on TV and in the newspapers, are concerned about burglars, kidnappers or nuclear war.
- In middle childhood, fears wax and wane. Most are mild, but even when they intensify, they generally subside on their own after a while
- Fears may become so extreme, persistent and focused that they develop into phobias. Phobias – which are strong and irrational fears – can become persistent and debilitating, significantly influencing and interfering with a child’s usual daily activities. They can cause physical symptoms like headaches or stomach pains and eventually lead the children to withdraw into their own world, becoming clinically depressed.
- Separation anxiety is also common in this age group. Sometimes this fear can intensify when the family moves to a new neighborhood or children are placed in a childcare setting where they feel uncomfortable.
- At about age 6 or 7, as children develop an understanding about death, another fear can arise. In some cases, this preoccupation with death can become disabling.
What Parents Can Do:
- Talk with your child about his anxieties, and be sympathetic. Explain to him that many children have fears, but with your support he can learn to put them behind him.
- Do not belittle or ridicule your child’s fears, particularly in front of his peers.
- Do not try to coerce your youngster into being brave. It will take time for him to confront and gradually overcome his anxieties. You can, however, encourage (but not force) him to progressively come face-to-face with whatever he fears.
Treating Fears & Phobias:
Fortunately, most phobias are quite treatable.
- In general, they are not a sign of serious mental illness requiring many months or years of therapy. However, if your child’s anxieties persist and interfere with her enjoyment of day-to-day life, she might benefit from some professional help from a psychiatrist or psychologist who specializes in treating phobias.
- As part of the treatment plan for phobias, many therapists suggest exposing your child to the source of her anxiety in small, nonthreatening doses.
- This gradual process is called desensitization, meaning that your child will become a little less sensitive to the source of her fear each time she confronts it. 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.
- Occasionally, your doctor may recommend medications as a component of the treatment program, although never as the sole therapeutic tool. These drugs may include antidepressants, which are designed to ease the anxiety and panic that often underlie these problems.
This information was obtained from healthy children.org
(Official website of American Academy of Pediatrics designed to educate parents.)