Children Anxiety and Fears

What is the difference between being brave & anxiety? How can we help our children to be brave, confront fears in the moment and overcome anxiety, which is the fear of the unknown? 

From day one, I observe the babies that I take care and my understanding is that they show stress when they confront new situations from a very early age.  A 2-month-old baby can relax and calm down in the arms of his primary caregiver. My job is to help the child build up strength, starting by following the routine of eat, play, sleep. I use the playtime to interact with the baby and by stepping aside, I’m giving him space and a chance to start mastering some skills to help the child when separation anxiety starts to show up at around 6 months of age.  Little by little, the child has the opportunity to build up his emotional strength

Babies can feel stressed when they hear sudden loud noises; however, when   they are close to their mother or someone they love and trust, the child will look at the mother or to a trusted caregiver for clues. When the person shows  no fear  and assures the child the situation is under control, he will respond relaxing. It is our interaction with the child in the moment that will help him to overcome fearful emotions, by showing the child it is ok to try new things, the loud noise will go away, it does not hurt, the immunization shot at the doctor’s office is just a pinch, and so on. We can teach a young child that a difficult situation can be mastered, we just have to teach him how, from mom or whomever close to the child is in charge at the moment.  Of course we must protect our children from situations that are real threats, like crossing the street without supervision, a dog down the street, a strange person that mom is not smiling at or talking to,  touching a hot surface and so on.

How can we teach our children to master all these differences when even we adults can misinterpret?  I remember being scared of devils at very young age. My mother was a religious person, so she took me to a catholic church.  The priest talked about the devil and the church wall were full of pictures, some of devils with big fork on top of sinners, hell burning below.  All these made me scared at night so that when the lights were off, I could see the shape of devils on my bedroom wall shades. My anxiety built up so high that I covered my head, sweating in the heat of a tropical country like Brazil. My brother, who was one year younger than I was, experienced perhaps the same fear and ran to mother’s bedroom to sleep on the floor, by her bedside because if he stepped in her bed, she gently made him go back to his own.  Dear parent! On our journey as educators, we must use our common sense all the time; we will make honest mistakes just like my mother and the priest did.

My mother didn’t know that at my age, a child is not capable of understanding the concept of the devil, or what is real or just symbolic.   My mother had no clue that at the church, God’s place, the priest’s speech was too overwhelming for me.  In the end, I was able to face my fears and be ok; I had my mother close by, it gave me the strength to overcome fear, even though I had to seek protection under my bed covers.   Children learn to read our behavior, our fears and learn that what is safe for us is safe for them, too.

Our environment, the TV shows, news or even our adult worries seem harmless to us, but can be overwhelming for a young child. Young children do not have the maturity to differentiate what is real from what is unreal. It is up to us to understand how a child’s views are according to his age, in order to help him to understand and overcome his fears

Luiza DeSouza