What is fear?

Fear is an emotional reaction induced by the thought of danger, possibly resulting in a crisis. The reaction is not to the situation we find ourselves in, but to the thoughts we develop regarding the situation. Naturally, humans try to stay as far from situations they assess to be dangerous as possible. If they are in such a situation they want to escape and protect themselves. Therefore fear brings with it escaping and protecting behavior, as a result of the thought of danger it contains. We inevitably develop thoughts that are sources for our fear though what we hear, what we see, TV, cinema, theater and daily conversations. Therefore, information obtained from our surroundings may play the same role, as much as an event actually happening to us.

Fear is a vicious circle!

We think that our thoughts are correct when we relax after as a result of escaping behavior that comes with the feeling of fear induced by thoughts, which we have not tested for correctness.

The Results of Fear:

A person limits his own freedom of movement when staying as far as possible from the situation leading to fear has become a routine. This limitation affects tasks we are obliged to complete in our daily lives, and hampers positive feelings that we can experience by living life thoroughly.

Child and Fear:

Certain sounds, sights and animals that are ordinary for adults may sometimes be scary or frightening for children. As the child’s development continues, situations and objects that cause fear also change depending on the age of the child. The important factor is the duration of this fear and whether it is suitable for the age of the child.

What are Children Afraid of?

Babies within their first year after birth are susceptible to loud and sudden sounds. Separation from parents, strangers and new situations are sources of fear. Children are more fearful between the ages of 2-6 compared to other ages. Fear of strangers comes first. At around 2.5 years of age, fear of sudden sounds, strange animals and doctors comes forward. At around 2 years of age, fear of the dark, toilet or even clowns may be observed. Imaginary creatures are again among sources of fear. Some children are afraid of being flushed down the toilet. Some suddenly exhibit fear of dogs at around 3 years of age, despite a lack of reaction previously. While fear is not a negative reaction, excessive fear may disturb peace and tranquility of the child as well as the family. Because of this, it is necessary to know how to combat fear. After 6 years of age, more realistic fears such as school-related and performance anxieties commence. Fears related to school may continue in the following periods. Social fears and fears related to potential damage to the body are prominent. Meanwhile fears of imaginary creatures progressively decline.

How do Fears Emerge in Children?

A few factors play a role in the emergence of fear. The foremost is the learning of fear. Children observe their mothers and fathers very carefully as they grow up. They emulate and try to apply the reactions that their parents give in given situations. Family is not the only role model. Friends, teachers, TV and computer games are alternative sources of influence. Being influenced by a movie watched or a story told is also possible. Children avoid going to sleep or request to sleep with their parents due to thoughts that the imaginary creatures, ghosts etc. will come during sleeping hours, a time when they are most vulnerable. A child more easily affected by environmental factors already at birth may develop a fearful reaction more easily, but the reaction given to situations in the family environment is much more important. A mother who seems worried and tense while her child has a new experience creates a negative impact on the situation even though she may not be aware of it. Moreover, if the environment in which the child is raised is overprotective, the child will be reluctant to enter new surroundings and exhibit fear when new things are to be endeavored. On top of all these factors, some situations and behavior during early childhood may lead to development of fears in children. These can be summarized as follows:

  • The lack of parents or a trusted person who can substitute for parents, indefinite and long separation
  • Recurring physical punishment or threatening with physical punishment
  • The threat of abandonment: These type of threats lead to the child doubting the fundamental love of the parents and the unwritten agreement that they will protect him. For example, “If you don’t ……… I will abandon you, I won’t be your mother any more.”
  • Parents convincing the child that he/she is dangerous, blaming the child, and making the child believe that he/she can hurt and cause damage to the parents. For example: “You’re going to kill me”, “You’ll make me sick”
  • Frequently changing the baby-sitter and the failure of the child to understand the reason for this change will induce fear in the child.
  • Parents over-concerned with the child’s health and overprotection from the outside world
  • Parents constantly warning the child and stressing that the child needs to take precaution giving the message “Be careful!”, even though there is actually no real danger

Fears Frequently Encountered in Childhood and Points to Pay Attention To:

Fear of Loneliness: The foremost fear of the pre-school child is fear of sleeping alone. This could be due to the habit of sleeping with the parents since early childhood. It may be hard for the child to separate from the parents. The child may want to sleep with the mother to get her attention, especially if there is a new baby in the house. Nevertheless, sometimes, this behavior is not simply a habit or caprice, but a real fear, understood clearly by the child not being able to fall asleep for hours. Fears of getting into bed may surface due to fears related to death and sleep. It will be helpful if families can find out if the fears are related to the child’s daily life by asking comforting questions. Likewise, setting up a routine for the time to go to sleep will be helpful for the child to prepare for bed and sleep. It should be ensured that the child is calm one hour before going to bed. In the case of a child with a fear of going to bed, one should stay with the child until he/she has fallen asleep, and not hurry to leave his/her side before he/she goes to sleep.

Fear of the Dark: The child’s fear of going to sleep can be related to a fear of the dark. Everything is different in the dark and it is normal for children to feel alone in the dark. In this case, it may be helpful to have a pleasant night lamp in the sleeping room or lighting a flashlight next to the pillow. The child will think that the ghosts will disappear once light is lit. Showing the kids interesting things that are not normally visible during the day (stars, moon, night, creatures that live at night, etc.) by going on walks at night can help reduce the child’s fear of the dark. The important thing is to try to understand the child’s fear. Comments such as “There is no need to fear this” further prevent talking, as the child does not feel himself understood. The fear will disappear once the child’s fear has been taken seriously and he has understood that monsters, genies and ghosts are not visible and cannot do anything. Getting up to turn the light on, going through different rooms together, going to the bathroom, getting the child to tell the parents about the nightmare and drawing the thing that scares him/her will be good for the child.

Fear of Separation: A child experiencing anxiety due to separation is very susceptible to the feelings of his/her mother. If the mother hesitates, feels guilty or enters the child’s room with worry, the child will then think that there is something to be afraid of when he/she parts with the mother. At the same time, a child should never be threated with abandonment. This will awaken the feeling of abandonment inside the child. Thus, parents should be sensitive to the child’s fears like with everything else, and ensure that the child will live life as a secure individual in the future.

Fear of Death: Children between the ages of 3-6 may have problems related to death. During this period, the biggest fear is the death of the mother or the mother abandoning the child. The child thinks death to be temporary, and that the dead can come back to life or live on as an angel. Therefore, he may tell people to “Die!”. It is dangerous to explain death in connection with sickness or old age to small children. They may start to worry for loved ones that fall sick, or elderly relatives. It is also risky to liken death to a long journey.
The child will experience panic when a relative goes on a long journey or when he/she sleeps for a long time. When the child asks “What does it mean to die?”, it should be explained that everyone will one day die and that it is the end of life.

Suggestions to Families for Children Overcoming their Fears

Children overcome their fears for the most part as they get to know their surroundings and their physical and mental health strengthens. There are certain points parents can pay attention to, so that children do not carry their fears to subsequent ages:

  • Whatever the ages may be, one should respect the fear the child feels. Shouting, ridiculing or ignoring the fear will lead to the prolongation of the process.
  • One should try to understand the main source of the child’s fear. After the crying or crisis moments have passed, the child should be talked to about this topic or the child should be asked for a drawing showing his feelings.
  • If the child has fears that may be experienced jointly, one should stay with, support and help the child in overcoming this process.
  • One should listen to the child calmly while the child is talking about feared events or objects, and avoid showing extreme reactions that may trigger fear.
  • Children should not be told scary stories, or allowed to watch scary movies or play computer games with abundant elements of violence.
  • One can help the child become an individual by allowing the child to go into different environments, be with different people and get to know the surroundings without being overprotective while the child is undergoing these new experiences.
  • One could influence the child to make fun of objects of fear by finding their humorous aspects. For instance, by asking the child to draw the creature he/she is afraid of followed by dressing the creature to make it look funny.
  • Learning relaxation techniques and applying them on the child.