Understanding Childhood
Fears & Anxieties

My child seems to be afraid of a lot of things. Should I be worried?

From time to time, every child experiences fear. As youngsters explore the world around them, having new experiences and confronting new challenges, anxieties are almost an unavoidable part of growing up.

~ Fears are common

According to one study, 43% of children between ages 6 and 12 had many fears and concerns. A fear of darkness, particularly being left alone in the dark, is one of the most common fears in this age group. So is a fear of animals, such as large barking dogs. Some children are afraid of fires, high places or thunderstorms. Others, conscious of news reports on TV and in the newspapers, are concerned about burglars, kidnappers or nuclear war. If there has been a recent serious illness or death in the family, they may become anxious about the health of those around them.

In middle childhood, fears wax and wane. Most are mild, but even when they intensify, they generally subside on their own after a while.

~ About phobias

Sometimes fears can become so extreme, persistent and focused that they develop into phobias. Phobias – which are strong and irrational fears – can become persistent and debilitating, significantly influencing and interfering with a child’s usual daily activities. For instance, a 6-year-old’s phobia about dogs might make him so panicky that he refuses to go outdoors at all because there could be a dog there. A 10-year-old child might become so terrified about news reports of a serial killer that he insists on sleeping with his parents at night.

Some children in this age group develop phobias about the people they meet in their everyday lives. This severe shyness can keep them from making friends at school and relating to most adults, especially strangers. They might consciously avoid social situations like birthday parties or meetings, and they often find it difficult to converse comfortably with anyone except their immediate family.

~ Separation anxiety

This is also common in this age group. 

Sometimes this fear can intensify when the family moves to a new neighbourhood or children are placed in a childcare setting where they feel uncomfortable. These youngsters might become afraid of going away without their parents or even attending school.

Their phobias can cause physical symptoms like headaches or stomach pains and eventually lead the children to withdraw into their own world, becoming clinically depressed.

~ Fear of death

At about age 6 or 7, as children develop an understanding about death, this fear can arise. With the recognition that death will eventually affect everyone, and that it is permanent and irreversible, the normal worry about the possible death of family members – or even their own death – can intensify. In some cases, this preoccupation with death can become disabling.

~ Treating fears and phobias

Fortunately, most phobias are quite treatable…

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