Fear is a feeling of dread or anxiety. Preschool age children have many common fears. For a preschooler fear is a real feeling of something that they think is going to happen, or something that they are unsure of. Fear can be seen in many forms at the preschool age. A child may have one or a dozen things they are afraid of. Some of these fears may include:
- Nightmares or bad dreams
- Being left alone
- Being around someone new like a baby sitter or stranger
- Loud noises
- Flashing lights
- Dogs or other animals
- Unexpected events can trigger fears (a house fire may spark a fear of smoke, or a car accident may trigger a fear of riding in a vehicle)
These are just a few things a child may fear. How you handle fear in preschoolers is important. There are a few key points that you need to remember.
Honesty is the best policy
Always tell your child the truth. Lying or being sneaky in order to avoid dealing with a fear is not a good idea. If your child is afraid of shots, don’t avoid telling them they may be getting one. Talk to them about it a head of time. You can tell the child something like “The doctor is coming in first, then the nurse will be in to give you a shot”. The child WILL be afraid, but they will know and understand what is going to happen to them. They will also know that they can trust you to tell them the truth. Try your best to empathize with your child. Tell them you understand that they are afraid. Acknowledging the child’s fear is important, don’t brush it off as if it doesn’t matter. To your child it is a huge deal.
If a loud noise frightens your child, stop the noise and comfort them. By giving immediate comfort when the emotional crisis happens you are acknowledging the fear and showing your child empathy. Once your child calms down you can discuss the fear and make a plan. This is acknowledging the fear, yet being supportive while they work through it.
It is important to not make fun of the child for being afraid. What may seem silly to you is a big deal to your child. Making fun of or joking about their fears teaches them that they can’t talk to you about what is important to them. This is not something you want your child to believe. As a parent, you want to be the one your child comes to when they are scared. Empathizing with your child is a huge step in earning their trust.
If your child is afraid of new situations or new people then be there so they know they can trust you for help and support. Remind them that you will be nearby if they need help or get scared. If the child is afraid of doctors ask the doctor if it is okay for your child to sit on your lap during an examination. The same thing can be done at the barber shop or dentist. As a parent you are the buffer between your child and the outside world. By being supportive you are letting the child know that you acknowledge their fears, but you are also comforting them and supporting them while they work through the fear. This support is essential for a child and helps to reduce their anxiety and insecurity.
Give them a security object
If your child has a blankey or a doll that they love, let them carry it with them if they are facing a new or difficult situation. To a parent this security object may seem unimportant but to your child it is a piece of home. It is comforting and makes them feel safe. The security object can give them confidence and comfort when they need it. This is especially true if the child is facing a fear and you are not going to be with them.
Play and educate!
Using play to help counter a fear is a great idea! If your child is afraid of doctors play around with toy shots, or act out what is going to happen at the doctor’s office. You can act out sirens for police cars and fire trucks, you can help put on band aids for your “boo boo’s”, make loud barking noises like you are a dog, all of these are ways a child can work through fear by playing.
You can also educate your child on their fears through play. If your child is afraid of bees, get a bunch of books on bees from the library and read them to your child. Talk about what bees do, and why they are flying around outdoors. You can do the same thing with fire trucks, or other vehicles that make loud noises. Talk about the jobs of community helpers, and what those sirens mean. If a barking dog scares your child explain why the dog barks (after they are calmed down) and what the dog may be trying to communicate. Educating your child on their fears can help them the next time they are in a situation with that fear. They can think back and remember that you told them WHY the siren is loud, or WHY the dog may be barking, and that can help them overcome the fear.
Fear in preschoolers is a real thing. As parents, it may seem a daunting task to help your child work through them. Keep these tips in mind the next time your child expresses a fear, and remember no matter how small it may seem to you, it is a big deal to your child!