Parents can get very frustrated with children who have anxieties and fears. They may even feel responsible for them. Not knowing any better, they either run away from the situation to avoid any tantrums or get upset at them in the hope that it will simply stop the fear.

At one point, everyone experiences anxieties and fears. Some fears fade away, others stay on for years, while there are those that do not go away at all. So when is it called “fear,” and when is it labeled “phobia”?

By definition, anxiety is defined as “apprehension without apparent cause.” It usually takes place when there is no immediate danger to a person’s safety or well-being, but the threat feels real. Phobia, on the other hand, is when the fear becomes extreme, severe, or persistent, and does not go away.

For children, being afraid or anxious is normal and necessary. As they are slowly preparing themselves for the real world, this will eventually teach them how to handle challenging situations. It can also be helpful in making them behave in a safe way. For example, a child with a fear of heights will not climb a ladder that is unsafe and may cause an accident. 

Here are some signs that a child may be anxious about something:
  • Becoming clingy, impulsive, or distracted
  • Nervous movements
  • Sleep problems
  • Sweaty hands
  • Accelerated heart rate and breathing
  • Nausea, headaches, and stomachaches

Parents can usually tell when their child is feeling excessively uneasy about something. Lending a supportive ear is always helpful. Sometimes, just talking about the fear can help the child overcome it.

Problems may begin if the fear or anxiety becomes frequent and does not go away. If this is the case, then the fear becomes a phobia. It can be quite difficult to deal with this, both for kids and those around them, especially if the anxiety-producing stimulus (whatever is causing the phobia) is hard to avoid (such as thunder and lightning).

Parents play an important role in helping children develop the skills and confidence to overcome fears so that they do not advance into phobic reactions. Here are some steps that may guide you in helping your child deal with his fears and anxieties:

For more parenting tips, read these FN articles:
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(First published in
Good Housekeeping Magazine, Good Family section as "Teacher Says" in May 2007; adapted for use in Female Network)

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