Introduction to Anxieties and Fears:
We as teachers and parents try hard to teach our children to be fearful and cautious of specific dangers like fire, touching the hot stove or crossing the road. These kind of things are ways to protect and warn the child from harm. However, children can be fearful of situations or objects that we sometimes don’t consider threatening. These sources of fears in the child which change as the child matures. For example: I remember when I was around 5 or 6, I would put a pillow over my head because I feared something was in the room. Having a fear of the dark or monsters under the bed may give way to the fears of burglary or violence. We need to make sure those fears are handled correctly and not by teasing the child for being afraid or forcing them to confront fearful situations. We must help the child to deal with fear by taking their feelings seriously, encouraging them to talk about their anxieties, telling them the facts and giving them the opportunity to confront their fears at their own pace and with your support. Remember, feeling anxious in a particularly uncomfortable situation never feels very good. However, fear feelings seem not normal to the child but they are also necessary.
Anxiety is defined as “apprehension without apparent cause.” Webster’s Dictionary defines it as “distress or uneasiness of mind caused by fear of danger or misfortune.” It usually happens when there is no immediate threat to a person’s safety or well being, but the threat feels real. Anxiety makes any person want to escape the situation – fast. The heart beats quickly, the body might begin to perspire and “butterflies” in the stomach soon follow. However, a little bit of anxiety can actually help us stay alert and focused.
Having fears or anxieties about certain things can also be helpful because it makes children behave in a safe way. For example: a child with a fear of fire would avoid playing with matches.
The nature of anxieties and fears change as children grow and develop:
- Babies experience stranger anxiety, clinging to parents when confronted by people they don’t recognize.
- Toddlers around 10 to 18 months experience separation anxiety, becoming emotionally distressed when one or both parents leave.
- Children ages 4 through 6 have anxiety about things that are not based in reality such as fears of monsters and ghosts.
- Children ages 7 through 12 often have fears that reflect real circumstances that may happen to them, such as bodily injury and natural disaster.
Part 2 next week will look at Recognizing the Signs of Anxiety