Monsters, thunderstorms, darkness and strangers often cause anxiety and fear in young children. They can make children uncomfortable, apprehensive, feel unsafe and vulnerable. Fear is a basic human emotion programmed into a human’s nervous system; and all of us have experienced the physiological changes that cause “Fight or Flight”.
Experiencing fear can be helpful; it can be a signal to be careful, protect us from danger, and helps keep us safe. Some fears may be part of typical child development. For example: babies often fear strangers, toddlers fear separation from parents, and 4-6 year olds often fear monsters and the dark. Addressing fear and anxiety takes skills. Children can be taught ways to handle fears and other unsettling experiences and challenges in life.
Here are a few strategies to help young children deal with anxiety and fear:
- Give hugs, love and reassurance. A child will feel loved, comforted and accepted.
- Be sympathetic and take time to talk, listen and provide calm support.
- Put worry into words. Talk about the fear and help the child determine a coping strategy that would diminish it. For example; if the child fears monsters under the bed; assist the child in making a clean sweep of a bedroom and closet before bedtime; provide a night light, or add a dream catcher.
- Monitor and limit media time. There is just too much going on in the world that can add to anxiety!
- Confront the fear or activity causing anxiety and prepare the child before it occurs. It can’t be overcome if it is avoided!
- Teach relaxation strategies and fear reducing statements like; “I can do this!” or “I can handle it!”
- Read books! Children often identify with the characters who are going through the same situation.
- Use the child’s imagination. Encourage the child to create an image; a super hero who can combat the fear.
Fear and anxiety interferes with learning, sleeping and life! Empowering children with skills and strategies to conquer fear and anxiety will lead to happy, healthy and productive lives.
For more information about this topic, contact the Mid-Hudson Early Childhood Direction Center at 845-565-1162 extension 209.