How to Cope with Children’s Fears

Is there a parent who hasn’t experienced their child asking to keep the light on at night, expressing fear of a monster in the closet, of strangers, dogs and insects or of just being alone?

As explained by KidsHealth, the nature of anxieties and fears change as children grow and develop: Babies experience “stranger anxiety”; toddlers experience “separation anxiety”; children ages 3 through 6 often have worries about things that aren’t based in reality, such as monsters and ghosts, as well as a fear of the dark; while kids ages 7 through 12 often have fears that reflect real circumstances that may happen to them, such as bodily injury or a natural disaster. Most of the time children outgrow their fears, but sometimes anxieties persist and can interfere with the child’s daily life.

Ask yourself these questions if you are concerned:

  1. Is the fear typical for your child’s age?
  2. What are the symptoms of the fear, and how do they affect your child’s personal, social and academic functioning?
  3. Is your child experiencing any of these symptoms?
    • Becoming clingy, impulsive or distracted
    • Nervous movements, such as temporary twitches
    • Problems getting to sleep and/or staying asleep longer than usual
    • Sweaty hands
    • Accelerated heart rate and breathing
    • Nausea
    • Headaches
    • Stomach aches

To help your child deal with fears and anxieties:

  • Recognize that the fear is real.
  • Teach kids how to rate fear. A child who can visualize the intensity of the fear may be able to “see” the fear as less intense than first imagined. Younger kids can think about how “full of fear” they are, with being full “up to my knees” as not so scared, “up to my stomach” as more frightened and “up to my head” as truly petrified.
  • Discuss, talk, read about or draw out a fear. Drawing a monster can help a child express fears and learn to distinguish the fear from the reality.
  • Use dramatic play to help give your child control over the situation. You might encourage your child to help the teddy bear become friends with a stuffed dog the bear is afraid of.
  • Teach coping strategies. Using you as “home base,” the child can venture out toward the feared object, and then return to you for safety before venturing out again. Breathing can help as well: encourage children to take slow, deep breaths to reduce the physical reaction to fear. Holding their hand or giving them a hug will make them feel more secure

Courtesy of and National Institutes of Health