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How do you help your child to manage fears

by ines.wurbs@icloud.com

Anxiety is something completely normal. Also with children. These are triggered by developmental steps, by us as parents, or by the environment. No matter where the fears come from, you must give your child:

  • Take it seriously and allow feelings
  • Support, also playfully, to face the fears and
  • deal with it appropriately.

What triggers fear in children

The numerous developmental steps in particular often bring with them fears for our children. This is because our children are often confronted with new challenges and recognize more and more if they cannot influence a situation. These developmental fears should go away on their own at the end of the development phase.

To a certain extent, the predisposition, i.e. genes, also influence anxiety. Some people are more emotional, adapt more slowly to new stimuli, and/or respond more quickly to anxiety-provoking stimuli than others. To a large extent, this is given to us in our genes. Nevertheless, we are not helplessly at the mercy of these systems because we are also influenced by our environment. And for our children, we parents are this crucial environment. More on that in the tips below. But what fears do children have?

Separation anxiety

Separation anxiety is our children’s fear of losing someone. This fear is triggered by separation, i.e. whenever we parents say goodbye to our children. That can be often observed at kindergarten age, i.e. between 3 and 6 years. This is related to the entry into kindergarten since your child now has to separate from you more often than before. At the same time, they have to adjust to a larger group and are in a new environment with new rules and challenges. This is exhausting for our children and triggers these separation fears.

Socialization fears

In the first phase, these can occur at the same time as the separation anxiety in the phase of kindergarten just described. Since dealing with new children and with a group is a big task for our children. 

These fears often show up in shyness and reluctance to get in touch with strangers. Our children now have to learn to integrate into a group of people, put their own needs and desires aside, and assert themselves on the other hand. These fears often come out at night and have a terrible effect on sleep.

These fears of socialization recur later in adolescence. In adolescence, peers become more important and are of great importance to our teenagers. As a result, fears often develop here of exposing oneself to others and being rejected. That’s why teenagers tend to be so obsessed with appearances, and it partly explains why we parents are so embarrassed about our teenagers.

Fantasy creature fear

From the age of 3, our children start dreaming up magical fantasy creatures. This peaks around the age of 5. Through magical fantasies, our children create explanations for many things that happen in our world, and they cannot clarify them in any other way. This magical thinking also produces fantasy creatures that can be good and bad. And especially at night, when it’s dark, thoughts of evil figures come up more often. And with it the fear.

Fear of failure

When they start school, they sometimes have a fear of failure. This is because our children are now experiencing a performance comparison for the first time. They are now increasingly beginning to define their self-worth through performance. This fuels the fear of failing in performance. 

Fear vs anxiety


Fear is from specific things that pose a real, imminent threat.

This fear is essential for survival and protects us and our children from actual dangers. Children first have to learn this by gaining experience and getting to know their limits.

Fears caused by us parents or others

Fears are contagious. We parents often pass fears on to our children because we serve as role models. If they see dad screaming hysterically when he sees a spider, our children will perceive the spider as dangerous and over time start to fear it too. 

But experiences in which our children feel helpless and at the mercy of others can also cause anxiety. For example, a horse running towards you.

The first visible fears appear from around 3 years of age. 

Dealing with anxiety in children

Here I have concrete tips on what we as parents can do to support our children with their fears

Be aware

 Motivating is good, and overtaxing is bad.

  • Take your child’s fears seriously
  • Try to calm your child down by being there for him/her
  • Give your child time and space to ask questions and actively offer them
  • Be honest and sincere when making an explanation
  • Try to confront your child with the object of fear so that they have positive experiences with it. The best way to do this is playful.
  • Tell or read stories that feature the fear trigger and a heroic character to make good experiences. There are also books about this, which wrap it up in a nice story if you’re not the story-maker.
  • Role-play with your child, for example with dolls or stuffed animals
  • Make handicrafts or draw with your child the monster they are afraid of
  • Invent protectors, your favorite stuffed animal, a dream catcher, a door sign, or something similar
  • Invent remedies, such as an anti-monster spray, a magic spell, or something similar
  • At night, it is advisable to use a night light and leave the door ajar to fall asleep
  • Tell your children about your own childhood experiences. You can also use emotion cards to explain all the emotions. This then takes the focus a bit away from the fear and promotes the emotions and the recognition of them as a whole.
  • Praise your child when they try and try to face their fears. This can also be well supported with a reward board. This also increases success.

My child is afraid of burglars

The fear of breaking in is not uncommon in children and usually occurs from around 4 years of age. Children perceive conversations and begin to concern themselves with right and wrong within society and also with the police. But of course, burglars and thieves are popular characters in movies. Of course, that keeps our kids busy.

They don’t understand much of it either. This is how fear rises, mainly in connection with darkness. Since we don’t see so well in the dark and hear noises that we don’t consciously hear during the day, our children in particular have the idea that all the bad guys wait out the darkness and then come out, since they are more helpless than during the day.

Again, explain all the facts to your child and any actions you are taking. Perhaps also discuss contingency plans and, of course, the role of the police as helpers.

My child is afraid of everything

Well, as mentioned earlier, part of this is due to your child’s temperament. It’s probably more sensitive to stimuli, may have trouble adjusting to new things, and tends to respond to all of this with feelings of fear. Nevertheless, you can heed the tips above to get your child used to many stimuli and enable him/her to gain many positive experiences.

This reduces the fear and eventually disappears completely for many things. On the one hand, the stimuli are no longer new and unusual for them, but on the other hand, our children already associate some good experiences with this stimulus.

If you have a very anxious child, it is even more important to maintain a good parent-child relationship. If your child feels very safe with you, it is more likely to dare to explore the immediate environment around you and thus gain experience, about other people, but above all about itself. Your child can use you as a safe starting point and becomes more courageous. I have written more about the subject of secure binding and what constitutes it here for you.

If your child has a general fear, your child is also very busy with this topic. This not only leads to the typical fear reactions but above all to sleep problems and difficulties in concentrating and paying attention in the long term since your child is so busy with worries and fearful thoughts.

If you are concerned, please contact your pediatrician. He will give you more detailed information about your case and, if necessary, recommend that you seek outside help (clinical psychologist or psychotherapist, for example).

Watching TV causes fears

Digital media can also trigger fears. In a survey by the IZI research focused on emotions, BR-online found that most fears are caused by films that are clearly above the age rating. But films that are suitable for age ratings can also create fear in children since cartoons and other moments of fear and elements of fear are underestimated.

But many other fallacies made by us parents lead to an underestimation of the fear potential of many films. A good ending, for example, doesn’t cancel the previous anxiety-provoking moments. However, our memory is also crucial because we usually remember movies from our childhood more positively than they were in reality for us. As a result, we tend to expect our children to do the same. 

The age rating of films and series only means that the content is not harmful to children. However, unlike books, this is far from a recommendation!


Fears are not unnatural. They accompany changes and are therefore part of the lives of our children and also of us.

Studies even show a proportion of 10-30 percent of children with fears that require treatment.

You must not deny your child these fears and dismiss them as ridiculous, but you show understanding for your child and their fears and try to show them possibilities and ways to counter them.

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