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Infants » Discipline and Guidance

Fears and Tears

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The apparent fear that developing babies show by turning away from anyone other than a parent is nothing to apologize for or to worry about – it’s a sign of expanding mental and emotional reaction. Toddlers and older children learn fear when they realize that they can’t control some things. They may be afraid of being hurt or of pain, or of being abandoned at bedtime or when left with a sitter. Teasing and shaming a fearful child may cause him or her to hide the fear behind belligerence or to give up and become withdrawn. It’s important to LISTEN carefully to a child to find out exactly what he or she is afraid of.

Facing up to fears

  • Reintroduce an eight or nine month old child to the vacuum cleaner, if fear of it develops. Carry the child with you as you vacuum; guide his or her hand to the on-off switch; let the child push with you.

  • Do something physical about irrational fears of such things as “monsters,” say parents who think magical things can only be dealt with magically. Spray them away with a spray can or cologne spray (the child will smell “monster repellant after you’re gone); blow them out the window; flush then down the toilet; throw them out in the garbage; have the family pet come in to eat them; or recite a homemade incantation against them before leaving the room. (Some parents disagree – they say that such actions reinforce the fear, because a parent seems to believe in them, too. They feel that saying, “There are no monsters, except in make-believe,” is better.)

  • Treat all fears seriously, doing what you can to alleviate them. For example, if a child is afraid of shadows on the wall caused by outside traffic, take the trouble to move his or her bed to a “safer” wall or to get an opaque shade.

  • Rehearse events that scare your child. Play “what if,” and discuss what a child should do in case of getting lost, being in an auto accident or having a parent get sick.

  • Face up to fear. Admit that you – and all adults – feel afraid sometimes. Tell your child about fears you had as a child and how you overcame them. Or ask the child’s grandparents to tell about your fears.

  • Don’t discourage  your child if he or she needs a “security blanket” or other favorite object to feel safe.

Ask Dr. Susan