First Fears in Children

Fears are common during early childhood; they can last for a period of just a few days or up to a few months. Things that had never scared boybothered your child may become scary all of a sudden. As old fears are resolved, new fears may arise as your child moves through the developmental stages. Although fears may be worrisome for you, these fears represent cognitive and social emotional growth in your child. They are a typical phase of child development.

Here are a few ideas to help your child move through this phase of development:

  • Avoid or adapt to situations that frighten your child. Provide night lights and special objects, such as blankets or stuffed animals, if your child is afraid of the dark. Make a special trip to purchase a flashlight for your child so that he or she can look around the room at night to see that things are all right. This gives your child a sense of control over his or her fears.
  • Interpret your child’s fears into simple words and add a reassuring comment, such as: “That loud sound was a scary “boom”, but it won’t hurt us.”
  • Have a bedtime routine. Engage in calming, soothing activities, such as reading stories or singing songs. Do this activity every night so that your child gains a sense of comfort and consistency.
  • If your child is afraid of something specific, such as airplanes, provide activities to help him or her gain control and understanding. Read about airplanes, make a trip to view some at an airport or museum or make a scrapbook that contains airplane pictures.
  • If your child’s fears continue or get in the way of family activities, school functioning or relationships with friends, reach out to your child’s teacher, coach or therapist to seek assistance for more advice.

Howard BJ. 2002. Fears in early childhood. In Jellinek M, Pater BP, Froehle, MC, eds. Bright Futures in Practice: Mental Health-Volume II. Tool Kit. Arlington, VA: National Center for Education in Maternal and Child Health.

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