Children's fears

Fear of the dark, fear of monsters, fear of thunderstorms, fear of animals, fear of the doctor, fear of kindergarten, fear of dirt, fear of monsters, fear of the toilet ...

A long (and 'surprising') list that involves all children, albeit to varying degrees.

'Mom, I'm afraid!' - a sudden and frequent declaration, accompanied by wide eyes and an increasingly plaintive voice (what tenderness!) ... A situation that every parent knows well and tries to stem as he can when he presents himself. Because fears are a 'normal' stage in the growth process: not surprisingly, they appear in the most crucial periods, generally between two to three years and between five and seven years. interviewed on the topic Giuseppe Maiolo, psychologist and psychotherapist, lecturer at the University of Bolzano, Faculty of Education, author of numerous essays (including The parent's eye, Erickson Edizioni, a precious 'guide' for the family) and, with Giuliana Franchini, of a series of books for the little ones starring a cowardly cat (Ciripò's 7 fears, Ciripò's cards, Ciripò's emotions, Erickson Edizioni, online).

Fear of the dark is certainly among the most common, and shared by many children, but the 'repertoire' of childhood fears (which sometimes leaves the adult perplexed), is however very vast.

What are fears?

“Fears are emotions and experiences that every child lives. But they are also very useful physical and psychic reactions. And then, fear is a defense mechanism that puts the body in a state of alarm when we are faced with something that we feel dangerous or do not know. Therefore, the consequent response to fear can be attack or flight. The fact that fears are instinctive reactions means that they cannot be explained ".

If fear is a natural and instinctive 'defense' system, why is it manifested in such a strong and varied way, especially during early childhood?

“Children experience a lot of fears because they feel helpless and still know little about the world around them. That is why they are overcome with growth. In other words, they are transitory and related to the reality that the child is discovering. The most frequent ones concern spaces and events that the child perceives as threatening.

The fear of the storm, of the dark or that of some animals usually depends on the difficulty in controlling reality. The storm, for example, is frightening because it threatens individual safety.

Then there are the fears that arise from negative experiences such as the fear of the doctor, because it refers to physical pain and illness. In any case, they are all physiological fears, that is absolutely normal, which have a precious protective function. They are used to help the child develop the ability to react and alertness ”.

Reality often frightens the child but also imaginary creatures, monsters of all kinds and mysterious and talking objects populate his deepest anxieties. Why?

“These fears arise from the child's inner world, from his insecurities and are fueled by his imagination. For the child, every object is alive: if, for example, he trips and ends up against a table, this is what hurt him. The ability to fantasize, and magical and animistic thinking, the one for which everything (like the table) has its own life, is in fact typical of early childhood ".

This explains why a terrifying specter can hide behind a moving curtain. The child projects outward, as a defense, the things that agitate him inside him, generally the negative feelings, and these are transformed into ghosts and monsters.

In the catalog of fears there are, then, those related to particular moments ...

“Weaning, entry to the nursery or kindergarten are absolutely critical moments of transition. On these occasions, the safety of the child, fueled by closeness to the mother, is put to the test. Crying, refusal to leave, physical ailments are expressions of a profound fear: that of being abandoned. The fear of being alone or being kidnapped is also quite common for the little one. And everything arises from the state of physical and mental dependence that the child experiences during his childhood ".

Faced with the fears of the child, the adult often does not know how to behave. What does he recommend to parents?

“First of all, you have to accept that his fears are legitimate. There is no need to force him to become courageous, on the contrary it is counterproductive because the child feels not understood. And even more negative is mocking him.

Instead, it is necessary to respect his times and listen carefully and willingly to the stories of his fears. Showing real interest in what his terrors are, even nocturnal ones, dignifies his insecurities and reassures him.

The function of the parent is to become the child's ally: rational explanations, and words - 'Come on, come on, don't be afraid, there's nothing!' - they are not needed.

On the other hand, when the adult turns into an ally for the child, he sends him a very specific and reassuring message: 'Let's fight together against your worries'.

The little one overcomes all obstacles when a figure accompanies him. In the alliance with the child, the adult must put himself in his shoes, enter the same dimension and take charge, for example, of the nightmare that the child tells and, in general, his anxieties ".

Read also:

Fear of the dark, how to overcome it

A serene and loved child, therefore more intelligent

Children's psychology: children's whims, how to understand them

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  • cognitive development
  • fears of children
  • psyche
  • 1-2 children years
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