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Children and Their Fears

Almost all of us who have been parents have had the feeling of wanting to give our children perfect lives, lives without pain or sorrow, but of course none of us can.  There are many times in life when we can’t solve our children’s problems or get rid of their fears. Perhaps all we can do is to provide a safe, loving place and a willingness to listen while children work through whatever is bothering them. Fred Rogers 

fearsWhere Children’s Fears Might Come from
Sometimes children are afraid of things that actually do what they themselves are trying not to do. For instance, most children pass through an age when they have an urge to bite. It’s usually when they’re trying to master that urge that they can be very frightened of things that represent biting or any other form of aggression, like a barking dog, an alligator puppet with big teeth, pliers, a nutcracker, or even a picture of a tiger in a book.

Angry Feelings
Such fears might also grow out of children’s struggles with their own angry feelings at adults for making rules and setting limits, paying more attention to another child than to them, or for not giving them something they really want. Children are afraid of getting too angry at adults they love because that could result in losing the grown-up’s love, so sometimes they project those angry feelings onto some outside thing — a dog or a tiger or a vacuum cleaner or a toilet drain — and they fear that that very angry thing may just swallow them up. Most fears like that tend to calm over time, especially as children realize that grown-ups can be both loving and angry…and that the children, too, can have both loving and angry feelings toward grown-ups.

Magical Thinking
Preschool years are also “magic” years, when children think that things happen by magic…or wishing…or pretending. Children don’t know yet what the difference is between what’s real and what’s pretend. Monsters, ghosts, and nightmares seem very real, so do scary-looking cartoon or puppet characters in movies or on computers or television.

Because children don’t understand how machines work and how bodies work, they might think, for example that vacuum sweepers, lawn mowers or heavy construction equipment have lives of their own and could uncontrollably gobble up things — even children! They might also worry, “If a doll’s arm breaks off, that might happen to my arm!” Even when a caregiver looks different because of a new hairstyle or different glasses, a child could be scared that the caregiver might have changed into an entirely different person. In fact, children sometimes wonder if just putting on a mask or costume might change them into someone different, too!

Playing Can Help Children Feel Strong
One of the most important ways that children work on their fears is through their play. When children play about something that’s scary for them, they can be in charge. Then they don’t have to feel so small, so helpless, and scared. Over and over again, children play about the same thing. Each time they play about something, they understand it a little bit better. And they get a little bit stronger…and less afraid.

Produced by: Support from:
Fred Rogers Productions logo Corporation for Public Broadcasting logo Rite Aid Foundation “529 “Vroom”

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