For the most part, fear is a good thing in kids. It’s what keeps them from getting run over or jumping off the roof for funsies. Still, some common kid fears are kind of irrational and generally inconvenient for everyone, darkness being one of the biggest. Fortunately, experts note that fears tend to come and go throughout childhood. Unfortunately, they sometimes linger into adulthood if a certain birthday clown happens to be a real dick.
The 2 biggest contributors to scared kids are vulnerability as they realize how dependent they are on their loved ones, and an inability to fully grasp cause and effect. The former often manifests as separation anxiety and a distinct fear of anyone unfamiliar to them. The latter shows up in unexpected, sometimes hilarious ways, like when your kid is legitimately terrified that they might get sucked down the bathtub drain. Although, as fears go, is “surprise toilet python” really that irrational?
Generally, the best thing to do is take your kid seriously and help them navigate their emotions. One good technique is encouraging them to reenact the scenarios that make them uncomfortable through play, in a context that they control. If you can’t readily identify those scenarios, psychologists have identified a slate of fears your kid is likely to experience. It’s like the scariest Chinese takeout menu ever! Here’s a rundown, and some ways to manage them besides repeating, “Chuckles didn’t mean to scare you, he’s just aggressively happy!”
Fear Of The Dark
If they’re already convinced something’s under the bed, use these anti-ghost stories from a sociologist who studies them. If it’s just the dark itself, pump the brakes on your insistence that the door stay closed. Try these tricks instead:
- Do the nightlight thing. Experiment with placement to avoid spooky shadows.
- Hang after lights out. Talk about how things look different in the dark, which is why mama likes it.
- Keep the door cracked. You’ll seem more accessible for comfort and monster fighting.
- Don’t be too accessible. No climbing into bed with you, unless you never want to be in the dark alone with mama ever, ever again.
Fear Of Animals
Everyone should have a healthy fear of Sharknados, but your kid shouldn’t be scared of the neighbor’s obese asthmatic pug. Fear of animals will likely abate with age, but in the meantime, do this:
- Model healthy attitudes. Don’t transfer your irrational arachnophobia to your child, no matter how menacing that pulsing egg sack hanging over your couch seems. “Look, honey. The spider helps us by catching mosquitoes and OH GOD, IT’S HATCHING!”
- Add a small pet to the family. One your child and can grow. Perhaps a spider-eating bird?
- Don’t force interactions like petting or hand feeding. Slobber, gross.
- Don’t allow teasing. If you yank Fluffy’s tail and Fluffy claws your eyes, don’t blame Fluffy.
Fear Of School
It’s important to determine what’s really going on here. Is it fear of school or is it actually fear of leaving home? Relax and stay positive (your kid’s watching) and encourage time with pals that go to the same school. Asking teachers for help is also totally appropriate.
Fear Of the Dentist
The dentist is the worst. Try to hide that objective truth from the kid (at least for a bit) thusly:
- Keep their pearlies clean. Keep big stuff like cavity filling from happening until they’re little.
- Find a dentist that works well with kids. Then ask if they see adults. Crappy plastic toys for all!
- Take them to the dentist as early as you can. How will you know when? Teeth would be a good sign.
- Don’t transfer your own fears. See a pattern developing yet?
Fear Of Death
Your kid will want to know about death at some point. First and foremost, do these 5 things, but try to keep it as light as you can and let them know it’s not something they need to worry about.
- Be forthcoming. Don’t tell your kid grandpa went to live on a farm with the other grandpas.
- Reassure them. Even if they once got really, really, super mad at grandpa, it’s not their fault. It was bacon’s.
- No funerals until after 5 years old. And only if your little Tim Burton is into it.
In the end, the biggest help will probably be to let your kid know you used to get scared of stuff too. Then tell them how you got over it, are now big and strong, and would not at all be unnerved if all the lights went out and stayed that way. Nope. Not at all. Not. At. All.