Fear as an Emotional Reaction in the Child

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How the Frightened One React?

Fear means withdrawing from a situation to which one does not know how to react in a more adequate way. It motivates a frightened man to a defensive attitude towards the situation that threatens him or to simply flee from the same. With fear one reacts not only to the real danger but also to the very possibility of danger.

What Are the Most Common Fears in Early Childhood?

Some forms of fear appear in early childhood, in infancy, so they are probably innate in humans. It is primarily the fear of surprising, strong and unknown stimuli, such as unexpected noise, a foreign person, etc. In this period of child development, the fear of pain, falls and unexpected movements are also common. As a child grows, these forms of fear become less common, especially after the second year. But that is why fears, that were rarely encountered in infancy, occur more and more often now: fear of animals, darkness, loneliness, dreams, death, and even the products of children’s imagination (witch, boogie man, etc.). At the preschool age, there is also a fear of fire injuries, traffic and other dangerous situations. In later childhood, especially in puberty and adolescence, fears related to dissatisfaction with one’s own appearance, intellectual abilities, or sexual functions are characteristic.

How Some Child’s Fears Disappear and Others Appear?

According to Freud S.: The problem of anxiety, fear of darkness, loneliness and a foreign person in the place of the mother are considered to be the three basic forms of childhood fear. However, they are not innate, because they are amplified by the growth of the child. The primary, instinctive fear, of sudden and strong stimuli, subsides the older the child gets, i.e. the greater its experience is and the better it has adapted to the environment. The intellectual maturation of the child seems to be the most responsible for the increase in the frequency of some forms of fear. It allows it to see danger where it has not seen it before. Experience also contributes to this. When a child finds itself in a situation that awakens in it the memory of some discomfort it experienced on a similar occasion, fear arises, although at the first encounter with that situation the child was not afraid. Thus, only after the second year does the child start to be afraid of the doctor or the snake, after the third year there is a fear of insects, etc.

How Stories Arouse New Fears in the Child?

Over time, the child begins to fear those situations that it has never experienced. This is due to the fact that the child better understands the speech of adults, so there is a fear of what the environment describes as dangerous, unpleasant or in any way worth fearing. The research of Jersild and Holmes is interesting in that sense. In the group of 398 children aged 5 to 12, 14% of the respondents stated that they were most afraid of being attacked by individual animals, but only 2% actually experienced some discomfort with the animals.

How Intimidation May Arouse New Fears in the Child?

Sometimes a child’s timidity is a consequence of the parents’ timidity. The child largely identifies with the adult environment, so it also acquires its specific fears. In the search for the cause of a child’s fear, we should not forget that parents often intimidate children or threaten them in various ways with a conscious desire to instill fear in them. In doing so, they hope to use fear to secure power over the child and force it into obedience. It is very likely that the increase in the frequency of fear of animals, darkness, death, imaginary characters, along with the growth of the child is more due to the intimidation of the child by the educator than its intellectual maturation and accumulation of life experience. In the third year, the child enters the first phase of the so-called physiological defiance. This is where it begins to actively oppose the will of educators, so it is understandable that it conflicts with them. Then many parents feel encouraged to react authoritatively and to seek support for their shaky intimidating authority. This is probably the reason why children in the third year more often show fear of the dark, animals and other things, which they have not been afraid of so far. At this time in their lives, their parents fear that they will be taken away by a wolf from the story of Little Red Riding Hood, that they will be locked in a dark room, taken away by a witch and the like, because children are reluctant to take food, refuse to wash or dress, or in any way defy the demands of adults.

How Does Fear Affect a Child’s Self- Affirmation?

Fear increases everything that threatens the affirmation of the child, which prevents it from achieving important life goals, in meeting essential needs, and thus reduces its self-confidence. Often experiencing fear sensitizes the child to fear. This means that for some time, situations that are similar to the one that caused the initial fear are increasingly feared.

How Fears Affect a Child’s Mental Life?

Fear is an inevitable phenomenon in the mental development of a child. However, it should be considered a negative factor in the formation of a young person. Fear is a very common but also a very negative emotion, because it inhibits many mental functions and deforms the personality if it becomes a slightly more significant feature. That is why it is necessary to protect the child from the experience of fear. If it has appeared, the child will need help to get rid of it, as soon as possible.

How to Prevent a Child From Experiencing Fear?

A lot can be achieved in the prevention of fear if the child is warned of dangers and troubles, if it is prepared for a realistic confrontation with various difficulties, failures, disappointments, or emotional shocks. Thus, it is absolutely necessary to prepare the child to go to the hospital, so that it does not feel rejected by its parents when it is left there, alone. It should also be prepared for the birth of a younger brother or sister, so that it does not feel threatened in its position within the family; it should also be prepared for going to school, attending kindergarten, etc.

How to Emotionally Relax a Child From Experiencing Fear?

Preparations for events that could shake its emotional balance give the desired result only if the child is correctly raised. By avoiding excessive rigor, but also indulgence in education, by intimidating and pampering a child and by systematically encouraging, activating and encouraging independence, children’s cowardice can be largely prevented. The courageous, cheerful, self-confident behavior of educators and their emotional warmth contribute to this procedure with the child. The feeling of acceptance instills in the child a strong sense of security, and this is the best counterbalance to its timidity.

How to Help the Child to Overcome Fear and Timidity?

When a child shows fear in a particular situation, every effort should be made to get rid of timidity. Parents can apply a variety of methods, depending on the obstacle situation. The child should be helped to gain enough skills to overcome the difficulty through persistent exercise. Eg. the fear of jumping from a small hill will prevail, so that we first encourage it to jump with our help on several occasions, from a lower height. At the beginning, the educator will hold the child by the hands, later only by one, and in the end, he will not hold it at all, but will be with it until the child decides to jump on its own. The child should be acknowledged for every success in freeing itself from fear.

How to Help the Child to Manage Fear?

The child needs to be given as many opportunities as possible to cope with the situation that frightens it, to get to know it better and gain a positive experience about its possibilities to overcome it. When a child, for example, is afraid of the dark, we will not avoid sending it for something in a dark room. Moreover, we will do it as often as possible, but gradually and patiently. There is no point in proving that there is nothing to be afraid of in the dark, nor does it make sense to refer to its age, or the example of other children. It is completely pointless to scold a child when it is afraid of something, threaten it or make fun of it. Such actions achieve the exact opposite effect from what we want because the child loses more and more self-confidence and finds it increasingly difficult to decide to overcome fear.

How an Association With a Pleasant Experience Helps a Child Overcome Fear?

When a child is exposed to a situation that it is afraid of, we need to connect it with the experience of something pleasant. If, for example, parents try to get their child used to just going to the store, they can allow it to buy some other little thing that makes it happy – a chocolate bar with a picture, a chewing gum, etc. The child sometimes overcomes fear when it’s interpreted to it how to govern in some risky situation. In order for the child to learn to swim, the parents will not force it into the water but will explain to it how to behave in the water, how far it can go, how to learn to swim. In this way, the child will be encouraged, kindly encouraged to be convinced of the correctness of the parent’s words, and will not force itself if it will hesitate for some time to go freely into the water.

In any similar situation, it is imperative that parents themselves show courage. Their words of encouragement will have no effect if they are reluctant when they themselves have the opportunity to show security in a particular situation. The timidity of the parents has a contagious effect on the child, due to the child’s identification with them, so it will be more and more afraid despite their verbal encouragement.

What Is the Difference Between a Child’s Fear and a Child’s Anxiety?

Fear that has a justifiable or at least understandable reason is partly innate in the child, partly in connection with its mental maturation, and partly under the influence of the environment. Anxiety, on the contrary, always arises due to a completely wrong attitude of the educator. It is an expression of the sick emotional relationship between the child and its living environment, or the deformation of its personality. That is why anxiety is always a pathological phenomenon, while ordinary fear can be to a greater or lesser extent also of a physiological nature. There is no sharp line to be drawn between fear and anxiety; they pass into each other, combining, so it is the task of the educator to consider in any case the child’s timidity to the extent of its neurotic nature, that is, the consequence of a wrong upbringing.

An example of a child’s anxiety: A 9-year-old boy who was once hit by a car on the street. The boy passed with minor scratches but was terrified. The next day he did not dare to go out alone. That fear of his was then quite understandable. It could be expected that the boy would gradually calm down, overcome his fear and again dare to leave the house alone. But instead, his fear grew stronger day by day, and he gained so much momentum that the boy no longer dared to go anywhere unaccompanied. Along with that came night terrors; the little boy shouted in his sleep, covered himself over his head in panic, or slipped out of bed and fled to the corner of the room, hiding under a blanket from a terrible apparition in his sleep.

Examination of the case showed that it is an emotionally damaged child which suffers from a strong feeling of neglect in its family. His justified fear of surviving a car accident unnoticed turned into neurotic fear, a phobia of the street, and bouts of night terrors. This happened because his experience on the street fell on fertile ground, i.e. the boy unknowingly used it in his struggle with the environment. Fear, which initially had a real basis, came in handy as a means of putting pressure on the parents. They became concerned about the boy’s distractions and began to deal with him more, and that was exactly what the boy wanted to achieve. That is why his fear turned into neurosis, in order to continue to maintain the hard-won affection of his parents.

How Is Anxiety Manifested in a Child?

In emotionally impaired children, a specific form of fear also occurs – fear that is not focused on a specific external situation, but is an indefinite, diffuse feeling of fear whose cause the child does not know. It is anxiety or worry. It is completely subjective, neurotic in nature, because it is not a reaction to a certain event, but arises from the child’s personality. Anxiety is an expression of emotional conflict in a child, its emotional ambivalence, or opposite aspirations that conflict in it. Thus, the desire for the environment to accept it and at the same time the distrust of the same is a common cause of children’s anxiety.

How Anxiety Arises in Child?

The basis of children’s anxiety – as Horney K.: Neurosis and human growth: The struggle toward self-realization says, is the feeling of helplessness in front of a hostile world. Neurotic fear arises in an environment that is unfair to the child or even cruel in dealing with it. Then in an environment that prevents the child’s free development of personality and impairs its self-confidence. The child develops an intimate dependence in its environment. It reveals itself, takes a certain attitude towards itself, forms its “I” in a mutual relationship with the environment and the emotional climate that prevails in it. According to Sullivan H. S.: Conceptions of modern psychiatry, the basis of children’s anxiety is the feeling that the environment does not accept it, that it does not attach value to it. A child’s experience of what his or her educators think of him or her is a very significant factor in shaping his or her personality. There are significant acknowledgments that educators give to the child, i.e. reprimands and punishments that indicate its shortcomings. Anxiety in a child often occurs when it does not understand why its parents scolded or punished it. This is really not always easy to understand, because educators are often unrealistic, illogical and even unjust in their insults.

How Anxiety Manifested in a Child?

The urge to maintain and the need to achieve mental balance drives the child to defensive reactions against its own anxiety. It becomes aggressively or covertly aggressive towards the environment, reacts with disobedience, defiance, malice and other forms of aggression, or becomes introverted, becomes passive, careless, distrustful and hypersensitive to its personality. With such defense mechanisms, the child tries to relieve anxiety, but in fact, fails. Because it uses unhealthy forms of behavior, it comes into even more conflict with its environment, so it has fewer and fewer opportunities to satisfy its emotional needs in a realistic way. That is why its internal conflicts deepen, the child revolves in a vicious circle of its neuroticism, it is less and less satisfied with itself, it has less and less trust in the people around it. Then the neuroticism develops, the child’s behavior becomes more negative, and the personality becomes more and more ill.

How Proper Upbringing Prevents Anxiety in a Child?

Neurotic fear, up to extreme anxiety, can be prevented by the proper upbringing of the child, or a healthy emotional atmosphere in its environment. If the child still shows signs of sick fear, parents need to seek advice from a specialist who will teach them how to correct mistakes in the child’s upbringing. In many cases, it is necessary to undertake psychotherapy of the child, which frees it from emotional conflicts and helps it to take a more constructive attitude towards its environment.