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Many tamariki this age experience fear and anxiety – there are lots of things they don't fully understand yet. Parents can help their tamariki by acknowledging their feelings, preparing them for things they're afraid of and talking with them afterwards.

Fear and anxiety

Everyone experiences fear and anxiety. Some anxiety can even be useful – it can help athletes do their best, or keep us alert when we need to focus. In the same way, a reasonable amount of fear keeps us safe by helping us to avoid danger. However, too much anxiety or fear can affect us negatively.

It’s not uncommon for tamariki in this age group to experience fears. Sometimes their fears are the result of a traumatic experience, but often there seems to be no particular reason.

Young tamariki experience many things that they don’t fully understand, like insects, the dark, loud sounds, dogs, going to the doctor, new people or new situations like toilet learning, getting a haircut, shifting house, death or relationship break-ups, or a new baby coming into the whānau. Their fears about these things usually lessen as their understanding grows, which helps them feel more secure in their world.

How parents can help when their tamariki are afraid

  • Acknowledge the fears – even though these fears may not make sense to an adult, they feel very real to the child. It helps them to know that mum or dad understands how they’re feeling.
  • Take opportunities to prepare tamariki for things they’re afraid of before they happen. For example, encourage the child to talk about their feelings and use words that help them to express themselves.
  • Support them by saying something like ‘You look scared of that dog. Shall I hold your hand while he goes past?’ Don’t tease or shame them, or tell them not to be stupid.
  • After the frightening event is over, talk with the child and explore it with them. For example, talk about why dogs bark.

Talking about fears

Use stories as a way of talking about things that a child is scared of. This makes it less ‘up close and personal’. For example, before going to the doctor, parents could share a picture book about it with their child or do some pretend play so the child gets an idea of what is likely to happen at the appointment. Knowing what’s going to happen can help lessen their anxiety.

Overcoming fears

Show them that something they’re afraid of is actually okay. For example, if a child gets frightened by the water going down the plughole in the bath, show them that solid objects like a toy are too big, just like them, and they won’t go down the hole even though it makes a scary sucking noise. Alternatively, take them out of the bath before pulling out the plug until they show they’re okay with it.

If appropriate, talk about things they can remember that made them (or another child) feel scared. Talk about how they felt and what they did to get over it.

Parents need to try not to show their own fears when their child is nearby. Children are easily influenced by dad and mum’s feelings.

Ways to reduce fears

  • Allow them to use their comfort object, if they have one, when facing new or frightening situations.
  • Tell the truth – if the child is scared because they remember what happened last time (for example, when they were immunised), remind them the sting only lasted a short time. Talk about something enjoyable you can do together afterwards.
  • Parents should always stay with their child during visits to professionals, to provide reassurance and support. This will also show them that their parents think the check-up or procedure is important.

Other resources

Social-emotional development for the 24–36 months age group | ZERO TO THREE(external link)

Normal childhood fears | KidsHealth(external link)

Helping a child manage fears (PDF 694KB) | Sidran Institute(external link)