All small animals know fear and small children are no exception. Some of these fears may seem quite "off the beam" to parents, and some children's comfort habits may seem distinctly strange. Parents are never quite sure what is acceptable for well-adjusted offspring. In fact, it would appear that just about anything seems possible at an early developmental stage and we look at some of these fears.

All young children have one overwhelming fear in common: the fear of being separated from their parents. Other fears come and go and are either of the child's own making or instilled in to him by transference of anxiety from the parents. Whether we like it or not, fear has always been a major part of life, both for adults and children, and nothing that can be said are going to make it go away.

Children have very fertile imaginations that are capable of generating great uneasiness as a result of hearing stories or watching television. They conjure up visions of ghosts, long-legged beasts and things that go bump in the night. It’s all part of growing up. At birth babies are relatively immune to the fears that beset the rest of us. This is probably a mercy, when you think what the inside of a modern neonatal nursery looks like, with all the space-age stuff attached to the poor little underweight scraps. The only things that startle the new-born are sudden movements and noise. Forty babies will leap in unison when a clumsy nurse drops a tray on the nursery floor. From birth to 6 months there is little progress in this department, until somewhere around the eight month the baby suddenly becomes inseparable from his main caretaker. Usually his mother. After this, any attempts to separate him form mom will precipitate distress and floods of tears.

At 1 year this separation is still a major problem, and the child will also often react badly to loud noises, such as doorbells, vacuum cleaners or food mixers. As the decibels rise he will cuddle in tighter to his mother for protection. Strange people, strange objects and sudden movements can also cause him distress. At the age of 2 the fear of separation still exists, but it becomes slightly less intense and more predictable than in the 1 year old. Loud bangs still cause upsets, as will the unexpected screech of brakes, ambulance sirens or the violent barking of dogs.

Between 2 and 4 years that obsessively tight attachment to mom weakens further and a whole new package of fears starts to emerge: animals and the dark featuring prominently in this array. The fear of animals hits its peak around the age of 3; fear of the dark usually peaks nearer the fifth birthday.

Between 4 and 6 years the child develops a highly vivid imagination, with fear of the dark constantly worsened by regular visits from ghosts, bogeymen, monsters and travellers from out space. After the age of 6 some children are said to worry about being injured, or they may even start to fear death, although they still do not have the adult picture of either of these possibilities.

By the age of 10, the child has been lumbered with most of the burden of adult fears, which he will carry for the rest of his life. These are compounded during adolescence with the major fear of not "making it" as a fully accepted member of the peer group.

However foolish a child's fears may seem to an adult, they are very real to the child, and they must not be put down or ridiculed. Talking openly about anxieties helps to keep in clear perspective the division between fact and fantasy. The best way to treat childhood fears is by good parental example, lots of support and comfort. and then gradual desensitisation.
There is usually no reason to get too worried, as most fears at this age are temporary problems that evaporate with the passage of time. Looking back one year on, it is hard to think what all the fuss was about.

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