Imaginary monsters, squeaky balloons or even a friendly sausage dog can turn a confident child into a quivering jelly. Yes, it’s totally normal for pre-schoolers to develop specific fears seemingly out of the blue. But it can be hard to convince them that their fear is irrational.
The golden rule for us as parents is to never scoff or laugh it off – no matter how silly it may sound. Whatever it is, it is genuinely frightening for your child.
Instead, acknowledge your child’s fears; listen, reassure and comfort – but don’t over-empathise or you may find yourself making too big a deal of the situation. Try to diffuse the fear and move your child onto thinking about things differently.
While every child is different, we’ve picked out 7 of the most common pre-schooler fears with some handy advice to quell the scariness…
1. Fear of the dark
Darkness for little kids can be utterly terrifying; clothes draped over chairs create strange, scary shapes – and imaginations run wild.
Fear buster: Gradually introduce your child to a less-scary dark, by taking an early evening walk with your little one and a strong torch. Point out how beautiful the street lights look, illuminating your friendly neighbourhood. Get snoopy and play I-Spy with the torch – shining the light on a parked car or a neighbour’s garden (anything that can’t be seen as sinister), and help to turn night time into fun time.
2. Fear of balloons
It could be the taut texture, the weightless drifting or the weird smell of rubber, or it could be the fact that balloons can go bang very loudly at unexpected moments, but one thing’s for sure, balloons can be loathed as well as loved by young children.
Fear buster: Introduce your child to the wonderful French classic book – made into a film – The Red Balloon by Albert Lamorisse in the mid-1950s, which tells the tale of a young lad who befriends a red balloon he finds by chance.
Visually stunning with a beautiful story to boot, looking at this together will bond you closer and may help your child to see balloons differently.
3. Fear of monsters
A fear of monsters can make bedtime a nightmare for the whole family.
Fear buster: Why not try some magic monster spray? You can get it from that amazing place called Creative Mum – it’s basically a spray bottle with tap water in it.
Spray it in the wardrobe, around the bedroom door and under the bed. Make sure your child watches you do it, so there’s no doubt that Supermum is keeping your little one super-safe, and then encourage your child to join in next time.
You can use a colourful plastic plant watering spray bottle and up the fun factor by gluing googly eyes onto them.
4. Fear of dogs
Seeing a dog can make normally confident, carefree kids cower in fear, which can make going out and about something you end up dreading.
Fear buster: First off, never show your fear or trepidation when you encounter a dog in front of your child – you need to role-model confident, calm and relaxed behaviour.
Tricky, we know, if you don’t feel comfy with dogs, so start with dogs you do know (or at least know their owners).
Next, ask your child to ‘grow roots’ and stand still, arms straight down by the sides – because a dog faced with squeals and waving hands will automatically think it’s playtime and could knock your pre-schooler down in the ensuing ‘game’.
5. Fear of strangers
While it might be delightful for you, the appearance of seldom-seen relatives or new friends can be scary if your little one doesn’t know them, making social gatherings really tricky.
Fear buster: First of all, give your child time. When comfortable and relaxed, your child might be more inclined to want to play a favourite game or do a particularly fun activity with these new people, but don’t force it.
Let your child sit on your lap and snuggle with a cuddly toy until ready to face this new person.
6. Fear of thunder
Cracks of thunder can make even robust adults duck for cover – but it’s no laughing matter for pre-schoolers who think the sky’s exploding.
Fear buster: Make a weather calendar with your child for the week ahead. If Monday’s forecast is for snow, glue on white paper dots (or stickers); if it’s going to be cloudy on Wednesday, stick on cotton wool balls; if it’s going to be sunny on Friday, draw a big beaming bright yellow sun wearing sunglasses.
And if it’s going to be stormy, cut out tear drop shapes of blue felt and yellow lightning bolts. Because thunder CAN be fun – derr!
7. Fear of blood
The sight of blood on your body is quite shocking for most people – but little kids can be mightily scared and may even think they’re dying.
Fear buster: Why not buy or borrow an illustrated children’s book or an app about the human body and explore it together with your child. Usborne Beginners does a lovely Your Body book, which also comes as a Kindle edition for tablets.
Explore some interesting facts about skeletons, organs and blood and demystify the stuff. And remember, stifle any freaking out yourself the next time your child scrapes off a flap of skin.