The fear of being alone in the dark, for example, is a common childhood fear. So is fear of animals, such as large barking dogs. Some children are afraid of fires, heights or storms. Others, aware of media images, worry about war or terrorism. If there has been a recent serious illness or death in the family, they may worry about the health of those around them.

Your child’s fears may come and go. Most childhood fears are mild. But even when they get worse, with acceptance and support, they generally go away on their own after a while.

How can parents help ease their child’s fears?

• Talk to your child about their anxieties and be empathetic. Explain that many children have fears, but with your support they can learn to overcome them.
• Monitor your child’s media usage. This includes exposure to scary images in movies, online videos and violent video games. Make sure the media is age appropriate. It’s also a good idea to create a media monitoring plan.

What you should avoid:

• Don’t belittle or ridicule your child’s fears, especially in front of his peers.
• Don’t try to force your child to be brave. It will take time for him to face and gradually overcome his anxieties.

When does fear become a phobia?

Sometimes, however, fears can become so extreme, persistent, and focused that they develop into phobias. Phobias, which are strong and irrational fears, can significantly affect a child’s normal daily activities.

Social phobias

Some children develop phobias about the people they meet in their daily lives. This intense shyness can prevent them from making friends at school and relating to most adults, especially strangers.

They may consciously avoid social situations such as birthday parties, social events or sporting activities. They may find it difficult to feel comfortable talking to anyone outside of their immediate family.

Separation anxiety is also common in children. Sometimes this fear can intensify when the family moves to a new neighborhood. These children may fear going to summer camp or even attending school. Their phobias can cause physical symptoms, such as headaches or stomachaches.

Treatment of childhood fears & phobias

Fortunately, most phobias are usually treatable. If your child’s anxieties persist and interfere with his enjoyment of everyday life, he may benefit from seeing a child psychiatrist or psychologist who specializes in treating phobias.

Behavioral therapy

As part of the treatment plan for phobias, many therapists recommend exposing your child to the source of their anxiety in small, non-threatening doses.

Under the guidance of a therapist, a child who is afraid of dogs can start by talking about that fear and seeing pictures or videos of dogs. Then they might watch a neighborhood dog from behind the safety of a window.

Then, with a parent or therapist by their side, they might spend a few minutes in the same room as a friendly, cuddly puppy. Eventually they will find themselves able to pet the dog. Over time, they will become comfortable in situations with older or unfamiliar dogs.

This gradual process is called desensitization, which means your child will become less sensitive to the source of their fear each time they encounter it.

Eventually, your child will no longer feel the need to avoid the situation that was the basis of their phobia. Sometimes psychotherapy can also help children gain more confidence. Breathing and relaxation exercises can also help children in stressful situations.

Behavior therapy is the first line of treatment for phobias. In rare cases, when behavioral therapy isn’t helping enough, your child’s doctor may recommend medication as part of the treatment plan. This would be in addition to behavioral therapy and not as the sole therapeutic tool. These medications may include antidepressants, which are designed to relieve the anxiety and panic that often underlie these problems.