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Children often have fears, just like adults. It's best for whānau to notice those fears and help their children deal with them.

It’s common for 2-year-olds to have fears as their awareness of the world grows but their understanding of it is incomplete.

Common fears for young children include being scared of the dark, dogs, insects, vacuum cleaners, sirens and water going down the plughole. Frightening situations can include having their hair cut, going to the doctor or the dentist and meeting new people or experiencing new situations.

Ask the whānau:

  • What have you noticed that scares your child?
  • Can you tell me when it first happened?
  • What do you think it was about?
  • How have you responded?
  • What do you think would be the best way to deal with these sorts of fears?

Adult fears

Adults can have fears too, such as spiders, moths, mice and open or small spaces. We need to try not to pass our fears on to our children. Our fears can seem irrational to another adult but feel very real to us, and it’s no different for young children.

Ask the whānau:

  • Is there anything that makes you feel scared that you’d be prepared to talk about?
  • What do you think makes you feel anxious about that?
  • How do you think you could avoid passing your fears on to your child?

Dealing with the fear

When dealing with fears, these are some things to think about:

  • It might seem silly to adults, but the fear is real for the child, so it’s a good idea not to laugh, ignore or tease them about it.
  • It helps to show a child that we understand they’re feeling afraid and put it into words for them – ‘I think you might be feeling scared of that dog’.
  • Offer support – ‘Shall I hold your hand while the dog goes past?’

Later on, it can help if parents talk about the frightening thing with their child. Talking it over ‘after the event’, when children aren’t feeling so anxious, is far more effective in helping them understand their fears than talking about it during the event – just as it is for adults.

Using a picture book about fears can help a child process information when it’s not so ‘up close and personal’.

Sometimes it can help if a child gets to ‘pretend play’ a scary situation – having a rehearsal gives them a chance to think about or practise how they might deal with it. Of course, sometimes the pretend situation doesn’t work, so parents still have to pay attention to how the child reacts in stressful situations.

There are also lots of games that depend on surprise or a mildly scary feeling. This can go too far and turn into a really scary experience for a child. For example, simple peek-a-boo or hiding games can turn into frightening events.

Some older siblings (and even some adults) may find it funny to scare young children. For this reason, a child needs parents to keep an eye on how they’re feeling and responding to each situation. Parents should consider if something really is fun for everyone.

How does this relate to Tākai resources?

Baby wall frieze – Whakarongo mai – listen to me because I need to know that I can trust you to hear me when I'm scared or want to talk about my fears

Six things children need – Te kōrero me te whakarongo – talking and listening we give words for their feelings so they learn to express them rather than acting them out

Helpful resources for whānau