Fears: The Monster in the Closet
By Dr. Liza Bonin
a natural part of growth and development, children will develop
fears. Fears become a reason for concern only when they become persistent
and interfere with a child's daily routine.
a fear reaches this level, it is often identified as an "irrational
fear" or "phobia" - an intense concern about an object
or situation that would not trouble most people. Whether or not
a fear can be defined as "irrational" depends on a child's
age and level of development.
Toddlers often have fears involving separation, noises, falling,
animals and insects, of using the potty, bathing and bedtime. Common
fears among preschoolers include animals and insects, monsters and
ghosts, getting lost, divorce, loss of a parent and bedtime. Fear
of separation, noises, falling, new situations (especially starting
school), social rejection, war and burglars often affect school-aged
children. Teen-agers and adolescents fears new situations (going
to high school or college), war, divorce and sexual situations.
I often remind parents that fears may increase during a time of
stress. Major life events such as a new baby, moving, divorce or
death of a loved one or friend can intensify fears. Children may
release their stress or act out their grief by demonstrating what
they are afraid of. Specific events, like falling, getting burned
or being chased by a dog, also may trigger fears.
fears are a function of temperament or mood. Also, it's important
to keep in mind children whose parents show anxiety, worry a lot
or tend to overact, are modeling behaviors for their children.
Parents can help their children calm fears by following some simple
*No matter how silly they seem, respect your child's fears. A negative
reaction from you isn't useful and can intensify a fear. A negative
reaction would be one that's dismissing, sarcastic or punishing.
empathetic and sensitive towards your child. Give him/her your support.
positive feelings for your child. Remind your child of things he
or she has conquered them in the past.
and reassure your child. Empathetically send the message "you
can do it. It will be OK. You can handle it."
matter how difficult it is, avoid being overprotective. This can
only increase the number of fears your child develops or intensify
the ones he or she already has.
children anticipate situations that might result in fear and anxiety.
Help children develop constructive coping plans in advance. Constructive
plans usually involve encouraging your child to face his or her
fears in a manageable way.
children with anxious temperaments tend to do best when their environment
is structured and predictable.
professional treatment if your child's fears are:
o Interfering with family activities
o Creating problems in developing friendships
o Used as an excuse to miss school
o Disrupting sleep patterns
o Resulting in compulsive behavior
Liza Bonin is a Clinical Psychologist and Head of School-Age Therapeutic
Intervention at Texas Children's Hospital. For more information
on the Learning Support Center at Texas Children's Hospital, visit