It is very common for children under the age of 5 to experience a variety of fears – the world can seem large and intimidating when you’re little. Much of the time, parents can help alleviate these fears through reassurance. Below are some of the most common fears for young children and how you can help your child conquer them.
Fear of the Dark: It’s normal and natural for young children to have anxiety at bedtime, specifically a fear of the dark. Here are things you can do to ease your child’s mind:
- Plug in a small nightlight in your child’s room or leave a light on in a nearby room.
- Keep a consistent bedtime routine that is calm and pleasant to help your child associate nighttime with positive, comforting experiences. You might diffuse a soothing essential oil, sing lullabies or play soothing music, read books, say prayers or reflect on the good parts of the day.
- Reassure your child that you’re close by. It can help children relax if they can hear you in a nearby room talking, doing the dishes or even watching TV.
- Provide a special nighttime sleeping companion, such as a cuddly stuffed animal. (Looking for more bedtime tips? Check out this post)
Fear of Separation: It’s very normal for children (especially 2 and 3 year olds) to be nervous about being away from you, whether at school or with a babysitter. Here are tips to help:
- Keep your attitude upbeat and tell your child ahead of time what to expect about where he is going and who will take care of him.
- Reassure your child that you will always come back.
- Read “The Kissing Hand” with your child and create your own special way to say goodbye.
- When it’s time to separate, give your child one big hug, reassure him you will be back later and turn around and leave immediately. Do not turn around and don’t go back. He will be just fine with the reassurance of the teacher or babysitter.
Fear of Storms: Let’s face it: storms can be scary even for grown-ups! It’s perfectly normal for young children to be afraid of storms. Here’s how to help:
- Reassure your child that she is safe and that you will make sure she stays safe. If she is afraid of a storm at school or while on a playdate, be sure the adult in charge knows about this fear and is prepared to reassure her.
- Keep internet and TV reports out of earshot and sight of your little one. The media may sensationalize storms and it isn’t healthy for young children to see the relatively rare tragedies storms can bring.
- Teach your child a bit of meteorology! Explain how thunder and lightning work and let her know that the rain is needed for the plants and animals to have water. This rain cloud science experiment is a fun way to help her understand.
The key to helping young children through these normal fears is to provide age-appropriate education, lots of reassurance, positive parenting and plenty of opportunities to feel safe and loved. When fears become so great that they severely interfere with a child’s functioning for more than a week (eating, sleeping, ability to go to preschool), it may be time to enlist the support of a licensed child therapist, preferably a registered play therapist.