Child Fears: Recognizing Fears in Different Stages

Now that Halloween is over, you might find that your children (especially Middle School aged) have a newly acquired touch of morbid flair in their personalities.  Unsurprisingly, many children have to face their fears during this season.

Kids have been exposed to a month of undead horrors surrounding Halloween fun, All Saints Day & All Souls Day (for us Catholics), as well as the Day of the Dead celebrations. I also blame the “scary” movies and the Goosebumps series that I put out as seasonal reading each year.

goosebumps books, mom of seven fears

Kids find ways to deal with their fears as they mature.

Children actually fear different things at different stages of their developmental growth.

Infants and Toddlers: separation anxiety and stranger danger.

To cope with their fears, very young children will cling to their source of comfort.  Toddlers (and infants)  may advert their faces, or avoid the things that make them uncomfortable.  Of course, they will voice their objection of the situation by crying until they learn to talk.

Me, offering to read Love, Splat in early February: How about we read this one?

Number 7 (3 years old), eyeing the black cat on the cover: No, that one is scary.  That’s a scary cat.

Me: There is a also heart on this book.  Hearts mean ‘I love you’.  Let’s read it; I bet it won’t be scary.

Splat the cat valentine, fears
After Halloween, my preschooler fears all black cats.

Elementary School Fears

Elementary kids may scream and run around in dramatic parodies of actual fear when faced with something that makes them uncomfortable, such as a person in an Easter Bunny body suit.  Some (boys especially) will laugh and attempt to attack the “bunny”; true to their Lord of the Flies instincts.

Nothing says “I like you, but I’m scared to tell you” like pulling a girl’s hair or calling a boy names.  This is just how they are dealing with those fears.

Middle School Fears

Middle School kids are learning how to deal with their new world and the emotions it inspires on a level that is more mature.  Number 3 internalized her fear, and her new perspective showed an awareness that the world isn’t as safe as she used to take for granted.  Maybe for the first time, she thought about her loved ones not living forever.  She became aware that her life was changing, and that’s scary enough for anyone to contemplate.  But then, I think she read every Goosebumps book ever written.

Sitting in the bleachers at a HS Football game…
Number 3: If this stadium catches fire, we would all die.

Middle School Teacher (after Anti-Bully Presentation): Number 3, what would you do if you got bullied?
Number 3: Slit my throat.
Teacher:     … Let’s go call your mom.

Me (Talking about world hunger): Unfortunately, some people are starving and have to eat whatever they can. Sometimes they might eat cats or dogs.
Number 3: I’d never eat a cat.
Me: Well, if you had to choose between your family eating a cat or watching your brother die of starvation, which would you choose?
Number 3 (thinks quietly for a moment): Which brother?

Okay, so it’s a little disturbing, but it’s usually just a phase.

Teens

Teens in High School (and beyond) may indicate that they’ve been thinking on topics of death as well as after-life.  You may even see your older child think through a spiritual crisis.

Question: Why would we want to go to heaven if our friends and some other people we love aren’t going to be there? 

Answer: First of all, it’s still better than the alternative.  Secondly, it’s our job to help our loved ones get to heaven; and it’s their job to help us.

Logical and Straight-Forward answers will usually put your child’s mind to rest.

While a touch of levity will “help the medicine go down”, it’s best to remember that your child’s concern is real to him or her.  Even children want to be taken seriously when they express anxiety.

sun exploding fears

Question: What will we do when the sun dies? 

Answer:  That’s not going to happen in your lifetime, or for many-many-many  years from now.  The good new is, there are many scientist and other incredibly smart people are working to solve those kinds of problems.  If you study and work hard, you can be one of the people that solve big problems too.

Childhood fears often seem silly to an adult with more pressing issues than nightlights and under-the-bed-checks.  Even when your child’s fears seem unreasonable or downright laughable, it’s important to provide a solid line of communication.  Remember, if your child feels that they can come to you with the small things, they will be more willing to approach you with the larger issues.

How do you face your own fear?

Part of our human condition is that we hate what we fear; often we avoid unknown or uncontrollable situations; frequently we run from responsibility; we mentally escape from pressure.

It might help to talk to your child about how you face your own fears.  After all, adults often use the same tactics they found worked for them when they were children.

If you and your child are dealing with fears, read this article (especially page 5) from KidsHealth:  There are links to engage both parents and children on the many topics associated with childhood fear and anxieties.

fears and fearless, mom of seven
Fear is healthy and normal… as long as it doesn’t interfere with daily living.

I'd love to hear what has worked for you!