Survival is the most basic instinct. Fear is the most basic emotion that triggers this survival instinct. Expression of fear, either in action or in words, is a part of normal development. Fears become abnormal only when they interfere with or severely inhibit the child’s day-to-day functioning.
- Fear of strangers may appear at 5-8 months. Gently remind strangers to keep at a distance until the child becomes used to their presence.
- Fear of the bathtub or bathing may arise at 1-2 years of age and is occasionally derived from a negative experience such as soap in the eyes or slipping in the water.
Don’t insist on the bathtub, but try an alternative –a dishpan /sponge bath.
- Fear of separation appears around 2 years of age when a sensitive, dependent child is suddenly separated from his major caretaker. The fear generally worsens at bedtime. Allow the child to develop independence, in carefully controlled circumstances, at an early age. Accustom the child to a babysitter gradually, a half-hour ‘warm-up period’ before you leave is helpful. If the child is inconsolable when you are leaving, give him an object that belongs to you (a scented handkerchief) to keep till you return to assure him that you have not permanently left and will return soon.
- Imaginary worries arise at 3-5 years of age. Dogs, darkness, fire and death all figure prominently. Doctors feature quite high on the list. Mothers use the fear of doctor to enforce feeding or discipline the child. Such patterns of fear are seen, commonly, in children who are tense from battles over toilet training or feeding. Frightening stories, warnings or television shows may also stimulate these fears.
Understand and accept the child’s aversions. Never force the child to face the fears abruptly. Encourage him to play games with his fears. Let the child take an active role in dealing with the fears (like spraying his room with water that he believes is ‘monster spray’ to prevent monsters). This often leads to successful eradication of fears.
- Fear of injury occurs at or beyond 3 years of age and is often triggered by seeing crippled or deformed people. The child is quick to perceive that something is wrong and puts himself in the injured person’s place.
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