The development of fear – Helping to defeat it
How does fear develop?
What are the educational strategies to be used to support children?
It is completely normal for children (as well as for adults) to be afraid, fear can be defined as a primary emotion that is activated in situations of real or imagined danger activates thoughts of immediate danger and predisposes the body to a reaction that can be attack or flight; in this sense, fear is useful for the survival of the human species, in that it allows to implement defensive behaviors from a situation perceived as dangerous.
So we tend to develop all instinctively fear of threatening situations, for example a fire, from which in this case we react by moving away just to protect ourselves, but some of us may develop fears also for situations that to other people might seem unjustified for example fear of insects.
Physiological reactions related to fear
When a person is experiencing a certain fear, unconscious reactions proportionate to the feeling of fear take place at the physiological level: increased heart rate, blood pressure, sugars are poured into the blood, feeling hot head, goosebumps, intense sweating, the pupils of the eyes dilate and these are barred or tightened.
Even the internal organs such as intestine and kidneys are hyperactivated so sometimes they can cause dysentery or indigestion, the secretions of the pituitary pinwheel and adrenal medulla increase. Unconsciously, attention and reaction speed also increase. This physical reaction has the purpose of improving the performance of the subject against an eventual attack or flight reaction.
The reaction of children to a situation of fear can see the act of different behaviors including stiffening of the body, outbursts of anger, avoiding the dangerous situation, or they can cling to the reference figure; the reactions vary according to the level of development, in particular very young children at the brain level do not yet have the necessary structures to modulate the intensity of the emotion leading to violent emotional reactions.
The typical development
Children are already born with innate fears, a first early fear is that of separation from the reference figure which materializes towards 6-8 months when the fear of the stranger appears following the development of the ability to recognize unfamiliar people and of the attachment bond. Towards 15-18 months, the fear of strangers manifests itself more and more strongly as fear of separation. In this period, the fear of the dark, the storm, sudden noises, small animals, monsters etc. appear. to which instinctive reactions of tears and search for closeness with the caregiver follow. Subsequently, with the advent of school, fears related to the sense of inadequacy appear, therefore as a child he fears that he will not be able to face the required tasks or to confront his companions for fear of not being up to it. In this period many of the old fears including the fear of the storm or the fear of strangers can be mastered thanks to the greater skills, but for this reason it can identify new threats such as fear of thieves, of blood, of injections. Starting from8 years the pure death appears which can also be expressed through the fear of diseases, physical dangers, injury and fears the realization of such fears, fears that become such precisely because the child does not understand how to master such situations. With the pre – adolescent and adolescence there appears the fear of not being accepted, the fear of changing and growing and the fear of facing the world precisely because of the emergence of a clear sense of individuality that has yet to stabilize. There are also fears that we can define as ” social“Which are unknowingly transmitted by education or society (for example by the media), with different impact depending on the cognitive development of the child. These may emerge following the persistent and persistent recommendations of the parents, who in doing so harm the child that the world is a place full of dangers and that they are unsuitable to face them by developing a sense of insecurity. It is normal for children to be afraid, as it is for everyone, but for a child something that seems ridiculous to us can be a source of great disturbance for a child.
Fears for the most part tend to disappear on their own thanks to cognitive conquests , the development of self-awareness and the warm closeness of a figure.
What to do when a child is afraid
The role of the adult in helping the child to understand and elaborate his fear is fundamental because, because of the cognitive development that has not yet ended, the child does not have the appropriate tools to deal with them independently. So the ways in which the adult interacts are fundamental to help him cope with the present fear and those that can potentially manifest in the future, in fact their harmfulness is not directly proportional to the intensity of the fear experienced, but to the intensity of the experience of solitude with which this is addressed. First of all is to make the child express himself, to let him tell the emotionsthat assail him because the very fact of talking about it reduces the tension in itself; children often learn to live with their own fears without communicating them to anyone out of shame, so as not to worry the reference figures, with the risk that they may become real phobias. Then we have to be the ones to notice if the child’s behavior changes. We welcome emotions by making the protective presence of the adult offer affection, without providing solutions: it is the children themselves who must develop the tools to face the fears, not the adults who must provide them ready. When a child is in terror, for example for fear that there is a scary monster under the bed, it is totally uselessto show him logically that in reality there is no one under the bed, facing the fear for the child could become a real trauma that could make his fear magnified turning it into a phobia: at that moment the child is too upset to calm down in a way so automatic. If instead it is the child himself who chooses to face his fear, give him the opportunity to count on an adult who is present and reassuring.
Listening to the child empathetically, making him feel the affective warmth he needs at that moment, reassuring him without diminishing or ridiculing the fear felt (therefore leaving the sense of humor aside) without forgetting that for a child any fear is legitimate .
Let’s also remember that every child has his own time , so we can’t expect a little fear to disappear immediately, but it could take weeks, so let’s arm ourselves with patience and we must be present in this path without being too invasive. Telling the stories before bedtime helps to face the darkness of the night and inside the tales the child finds valid examples of how the dangers, fears can be faced and also understands that these involve everyone feeling understood. It may be helpful to ask the child how he or she would behaveif he encounters that evil monster that scares him so much by highlighting the two warrior skills, or they tell their own fear of when we were young, for example we could tell the child about our past fear of cockroaches I spend that these little animals do not cause no nuisance. This helps the child to strengthen his self- confidence and self-esteem by feeling confident in himself knowing that the adult was afraid of a small insect that does not cause any disturbance to him. It is essential to reassure the child that fear is a normal aspect of life which is indiscriminately part of everyone.
However, we must continue to alert the child about the dangers in the world, making him aware of the bad things he might encounter, but we must enhance self-confidence in such a way as to make him more confident in facing fears.