Fears and phobias are common among the young. These fears will change along with their developmental stages. In other words, most fears are age or stage specific. Generally speaking, most fears and phobias are mild in nature and fade as the child grows and matures.
It is important to note the difference between a fear and a phobia. Fears are a normal part of development and are a result of a traumatic event or can even be a result of an active imagination or transferred from one fearful child to another. The term phobia is used when the fear persists beyond the appropriate developmental stage and negatively compromises their quality of life or daily functioning.
Common developmentally appropriate fears include:
- Fears typical to infants/toddlers (up to 2) include loud noises, separation from parents, and large objects. Even though they love to bang on many household objects, devices such as the vacuum and hair dyer can leave them very fearful. Fear of strangers is at its peak in this stage, causing your little one to cling to you tightly in the presence of adults they are not familiar with.
- Preschoolers (3-6 years) have blossoming imaginations. Likewise, the majority of the fears they experience stem from objects and figures generated from their imagination. Examples of these include ghosts, monsters, and supernatural beings. Also at this stage, it is common for young children to be afraid of the dark and noises such as fireworks.
- School-aged children and adolescents (7 and up) experience fears more in line with reality. These fears include physical injury, health issues, school performance, death, and natural disasters. They will also start to develop a fear of rejection or embarrassment at this stage. These fears can be exacerbated by unmonitored television or Internet use.
It is important to monitor what your children are exposed to and how they react to it. This will help you deal with any fears that are developing and give you insight as to how to encourage and comfort your child in fearful moments.
If despite your best efforts, the symptoms persist, seek treatment. Without treatment the symptoms of the phobia can be carried into adulthood. It is important to seek professional help from a mental health professional who specializes in child and adolescent issues.
- Most fears are age or stage specific; mild in nature and fade as children grow.
- Be sure to know the difference in ‘fear’ and ‘phobia,’ as phobias persist beyond the appropriate developmental state.
- If your child’s fears persist, be sure to see professional treatment.