What Kids Are Scared of -- and Why

Fear of Noises, Animals, and the Dark

Along with a child's first steps around age 1 comes the growing need for independence and control over her environment. And that means things beyond her control can frighten her -- like jumping dogs, automatic-flush toilets, or thunder.

Fears of Creatures

Ginny Kress, a Lakeville, Minnesota, mom, recalls that her 18-month-old son was afraid of ants. "He would panic when he was standing on the sidewalk if he saw one ant walking toward him," she says. To help make your child more comfortable with these creepy crawlers, let him explore the world of ants at a museum or in a book. The key is to help kids feel empowered, says Dr. Brown. "The more power you give them to let them feel in control of their world, the better they'll do."

Be sure to respect their feelings, too, even though you as an adult may not see any reason to be afraid. "The best way to get a child to listen to you and learn to overcome any strong feelings is to tell him that it's okay to have such feelings; that you have them, too, sometimes," says Robert Sears, MD, coauthor of The Baby Book (Little, Brown).

Fears of Things That Go Bump in the Night

By the age of 2, a child's imagination kicks into gear as she imagines things she can't see, which opens the door to fear of the dark and monsters. "Parents might find themselves faced with a 2-year-old who used to sleep just fine but now is having a hard time settling down, or is waking up and asking to come into the parents' room in the middle of the night," says Dr. Sears. Try asking your child what she's afraid of and what she thinks will help her overcome those fears. (While Dr. Sears advocates letting your child sleep in bed with you, if you're uncomfortable with co-sleeping, you can stay in your child's room a while to settle her down or let her sleep on your floor.)

Dr. Sears also suggests that parents establish calming night routines and skip bedtime stories with villains or scary pictures. "Help them to not view nighttime as a stressful time," he says. "Make yourself available to them so they know they don't have to endure these times alone."

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