Like many new parents, raising a baby through different phases has taught me a number of incredible lessons. Number one on that list is that, I am the main protector and comforter under all circumstances.
Truthfully, this has given me a sense of importance because there is nothing as sweet as when your baby has arms all stretched out and chooses you among everyone else in the world. Ooh that kind of love is overwhelming and the emotions (well, on my part) have always been a tear away.
Just to know that I mean the world to this little human being is beyond expression. However, with the love comes greater responsibilities of ensuring that baby is safe at all times without cutting off their independence despite their fears.
The thing about kids is that they are fragile little beings, with widest imaginations. Yet, they have tiny minds that are often unable to separate reality from their whimsy little worlds. With so much to see around them and little understanding of it all, many young children develop fears that affect how they reason and relate to other people.
For parents, it can be difficult to understand some of these fears which can easily be assumed as bad behaviors or pretense. As such, it is essential to understand what your child is going through at a particular phase and identify appropriately how best to deal with the situation.
Here are some of the most common fears especially among toddlers and recommended ways to help your child adjust to new things/surroundings.
- Separation Anxiety
This is the most common fear among kids. Separation anxiety can sprout up from as early as 6-7 months, with the peaks among 10-18 months old and eases up at around 2 years old. The common feeling that triggers separation anxiety is when the primary caregiver leaves the child behind.
At this point, the child does not understand that mommy /daddy has to leave for work or run an errand. Their only thoughts are ‘why are you leaving me? What if you never come back? For all they know, you could be going to China and never come back, so children have to do everything possible (scream as loud as they can) hoping that would be enough to make you stay.
How do you help your child adjust to this short-term separations?
Ensure that your child is left with a trusted caregiver or someone they know.This makes it comfortable for them to let go. Another key thing is to set up a healthy goodbye routine every time you leave. Instead of just sneaking out (where you will be caught sooner than later).
Have a goodbye session that is brief and simple with the reassurance that you will come back. Also, make sure that you leave your child with an activity which you can help in setting it up before you leave the house. Then once you have left, it is recommended to completely avoid coming back in since this will affect your child’s transition process.
- Strangers Anxiety
The fear of strangers is common among babies younger than 12 months of age. This occurs because babies are still clingy to their parents or caregivers in this phase. Any encounter with people they do not recognize causes a certain amount of anxiety which can be manifested through crying or refusing to be held by the stranger.
How to help your child? Recognize your baby’s fear and consider it as real as possible. Thinking otherwise and forcing your baby to a stranger only makes the fear grow worse and can affect the social development of your child.
- Fear of the Dark
There are many children of all ages that are afraid of the dark. Darkness comes with so many uncertainties which make even adults uncomfortable. For children, the inability to see what is going on and who/what is out there is a very scary. This fear of the unknown makes them feel unprotected and uncomfortable which can lead to outcries and becoming clingy.
In some cases, there are children as old as 10 years who cannot sleep well when the lights are turned off.
How can you help your child combat this fear? One approach to take is to try teaching your child about darkness and light. This will help them comfortably differentiate day and night and understand the need for the darkness which is resting. Other practical things include letting your child know how to turn on the lights around the house. This helps them in gaining a sense of power when there is darkness.
For the older children who are still struggling with fear of darkness especially at bedtime, you can allow them a certain amount of light when they go to sleep and gradually decrease the light over time. Evening/night walks also help children deal with darkness, so take time to discuss and discover new and interesting things that can be experienced at night.
- Fear of Monsters
For many parents, we always think monsters that scare children are just silly made-up fears. But children have a wild, imaginative mind, and are able to create their own images. Most of those images are creatures/monsters that are always lurking under the bed waiting to harm them.
How do you help your child feel safe in your house or in their room? One of the most important steps in helping your child overcome this fear is the acknowledgment of their vivid imagination. Yes as adults we know that monsters do not exist, there is no one under the bed and there is no boogeyman trapped inside the closest. But you cannot tell that to a child.
Children do not reason like that and actually take a longer time to process and separate reality from imagination. As they struggle with monsters that they have created in dark corners, in the clouds or moving shadows, take their concerns seriously.
This goes a long way in helping your child deal with monsters. Other things to do include checking under the bed, closet or any other dark corners, which is very reassuring to your child that there are no monsters. You can also put a sign such as ‘No Monsters allowed’ for good measures of keeping monsters away.
- Fear of Bad Dreams
Even as grown-ups, it is scary to wake up from a bad dream and kids also experience nightmares. This can heavily affect their sleep patterns and many are unable to sleep alone in their bed/rooms due to nightmares.
How to help your child overcome this fear? The main reason children have nightmares is their struggles with the distinction between reality and pretend. For younger children who cannot express themselves well, they show distress through frequent waking up, screaming and being afraid to go to sleep.
It is important to identify such behaviors and understand how to comfort your child. This can be done through comfort gestures such as holding your child, giving them their favorite stuff animal or blanket with the reassurance that they are always safe. If the nightmares persist and have dire side effects on your child, it is recommended to talk to your doctor, it could be something else more serious.