Fear is a basic human emotion that we all feel. Fear in children is a challenging and intense emotion, but it is a natural one. Recently, children have been experiencing this emotion more than ever before. In this article, I will explain the signs of a child's fear, its causes, and the best way to handle it.
Fear is an innate and natural feeling in humans, helping them to survive and protect themselves from danger. It arises when facing a threat or something unknown. This produces a reaction known as "Fight or Flight," either confronting or fleeing the threat. As a result, fear increases adrenaline production, preparing the body's muscles and organs to confront or escape the danger. A racing heartbeat is a sign of fear. Adults can learn how to face their fears and deal with them appropriately.
A child's fear is known as "Neo Phobia," which is fear of something new or unfamiliar. Most things, people, and experiences are new and can be initially scary for children. Therefore, children fear strangers, like teachers in daycare, their parent's friends, or people outside their homes. Because children find safety with their families, they feel scared when they are away from them. Thus, it is essential to address the fear and separation anxiety gradually. When sending their child to daycare for the first time, I always advise mothers to do it slowly, allowing the child to get used to being away from their family.
The initial reaction everyone has when a child is afraid is to tell them not to be scared, thinking that this reassures them. But since the brain doesn't recognize negation, the message the child receives is "be afraid!"
To handle fear in children, we should introduce them to the unfamiliar things they are afraid of. If they are so scared of a person, we should tell them that this person is a daycare teacher, a friend of the mother, or a friend of the father. If they're scared of a dog or a cat, gradually introduce the child to these animals so they understand and are no longer afraid of them. Recognizing and validating a child's feelings, talking to them positively, and encouraging them to feel positive emotions like bravery is also crucial.
Introducing human emotions to children and explaining them early is recommended to encourage them to express and handle their feelings. I usually advise introducing emotions like sadness, happiness, anger, and fear through drawings, placing them where the child can see, and explaining them from an early age, around one and a half to two years, when children start using words.
There's a significant number of adults who consult mental health specialists for anxiety disorders. This has increased in recent years after the COVID-19 pandemic. The foundation of this disorder is unjustified fear, often resulting from childhood fears that weren't adequately addressed. Therefore, it's crucial to treat anxiety in children while young to prevent childhood traumas from having long-lasting effects on their lives.
Many children are currently experiencing intense fear due to events in Palestine. I recommend the following advice for parents during this time: