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Fears and Anxieties in Early Childhood

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  • 0:01 Early Childhood
  • 0:51 Fear
  • 3:15 Helping Kids
  • 5:08 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Fear is a normal part of childhood, but many parents worry when their children act fearful. Watch this lesson to find out more about the purpose of fear, common childhood fears, and what parents can do to help children deal with fear.

Early Childhood

Gabe is five years old, and his mom Gillian is worried about him. Gabe seems to be scared a lot. He has trouble going to sleep at night because he's afraid of the dark. Even with a nightlight on, he gets scared of what's in the shadows. Gillian is worried that there might be something wrong with Gabe and that he's more scared than other kids his age.

What Gabe is going through is a normal part of early childhood, or the time between age two and age six or seven. Many kids experience fear and anxiety as they move from infancy into early childhood. Let's look closer at the nature of fear, common fears that children have, and what parents and other adults can do to help children deal with their fear and anxiety.

Fear

So Gabe is really scared of the dark, and we know that's normal for a five-year-old. But why do kids get scared? For that matter, why does anyone experience fear?

Psychologists often ask why certain traits have been passed down through time in the human race. Essentially, they are looking at how evolution affects psychology. Evolutionary theory basically says that the traits that are most likely to lead to survival will be the ones that are passed down.

Let's look at how this plays out with fear. Imagine a caveman who is not afraid of anything. He's the bravest, most daring caveman of all. He will stare down saber-toothed tigers and laugh at big anacondas. In short, he has no fear. Now imagine his caveman buddy who has a healthy amount of fear. When he sees a saber-toothed tiger or a big snake, he runs away instead of risking it.

Which person do you think will survive the longest? The fearless caveman is much more likely to get eaten by a saber-toothed, bitten by a poisonous snake, or fall off a cliff if he doesn't have fear. The caveman with fear is more likely to make it to old age and have lots of kids who will probably share his fear.

So, fear is actually a good thing. It helps protect us from dangerous things. Remember Gabe? He's afraid of the dark. In the dark, all sorts of dangerous things can be lurking: saber-toothed tigers, sharp objects, or any number of other things. So, Gabe is actually quite sensible in being scared of the dark.

Of course, most adults have learned that the chances of danger being present in the darkness of a bedroom are pretty low, though they might still feel a very rational fear when they're in a dark alleyway. But to children, the logical distinction between a dark bedroom and a dark alley is not clear.

Most of the fears that young children experience have a logical basis. Some of the top fears that kids experience include things like the dark, noises at night, animals (especially big animals, like dogs), snakes, spiders, and storms. All of these things can be dangerous, so the kids are just doing what they are programmed to do by evolution: survive.

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