Fears start to develop as early as babies begin to understand their surroundings. By the age of two, the earliest sources of fear could stem from natural simple things or sounds that most parents might not take notice of, such as the darkness, the gushing water, animal sounds, or even some imaginary monsters. As children physically and mentally grow, their fears and imagination naturally grow with them until the age of three. After this age, fears become more logical and reality-related. Take for example separation anxieties, and the fear of talking to strangers.
Let’s agree from the beginning that parents, most of the times, should not worry about those fears as reasonable fear is beneficial, and it trains your child to be cautious. It is good to remember that fear is normal. Take us, adults, for example; we are sometimes scared from trying new things or visiting places we have never been to before. How about a child whose world is immensely expanding at a great pace day after day?
The first step parents should take is to watch the topics they talk about; discussing certain personal fears in front of children might invite the same feeling within them. The same goes for parents’ behavior. For example, if the children see their parents fearfully react to a certain animal, most probably they will imitate that behavior and exhibit fear towards that same stimulus. The responsibility of providing a safe environment is a joint one lying on the shoulders of the parents and the nursery. Such a positive environment can help our little ones overcome their fears. It is the nursery’s duty to provide a quiet environment full of love and safety, with children working with smiley staff in bright rooms, just like the ones we have here at Little Academy.
A close eye should be kept on the cartoons the children are exposed to at home as they can distance them from reality. It happens that some children can resort to this kind of attention seeking strategy to invite sympathy from others.
Now, is it possible to overcome this problem in two- to three-year olds? Of course it is. However, what you need to know is that a lot of patience is required. It is because these fears did not pop up overnight out of nowhere. Thus, the treatment is usually slow and can take some time. Usually, as children grow up, their fears start to lessen in number. To help with this, it is important to train them to handle these anxieties slowly and gradually so that they can learn to overcome them relatively quickly by themselves.
One effective way is confrontation. This means to arrange for the child to face the source of his or her fear in the presence of the parents or a staff member they have formed a close relationship with. Parents could also work with the nursery in order to partake in encouraging the child not only to talk about his or her anxieties but also to attempt to draw them in bright colors. For example, some children fear darkness. In this case, focusing on the beauty and brightness of starts can distract them from concentrating on the fear-enticing thoughts. If that does not work, when putting your child to sleep you can use some other soothing ideas. For instance you can redirect your child concentration by massaging the back, or reading a bed-time story. A dim lighting in one corner of the room could also help overcoming the fear of darkness. If the source of anxiety is a cat or a dog, you can talk about the softness of this animal’s fur. You can also explain how playful these pets could be. Concentrating on the positive aspects helps overcoming the negative feelings.
Last but not least, NEVER punish your child for having fears. Children who are punished for their anxieties learn with time to hide them. The forced suppression of such powerful feelings could develop into something far more serious, such as morbid behaviors or psychological impairments. At the other extreme, do not act too over-protectively; let your child explore his or her feelings by the means of confrontation. Allowing your child to experiment teaches valuable lessons about danger and safety. Finally, remember that the pre-school stage is pivotal in reinforcing the feelings of security and reassurance. When children are well-equipped with such feelings they learn to handle their fears independently.