Fears and anxieties

Preschoolers have overcome some of their earlier fears. As they begin to think and reason in new ways, they may develop new fears.

Your preschooler may be anxious or afraid of:

  • real things (e.g., the dark, dogs and storms)
  • imaginary things (e.g., monsters and ghosts)
  • new experiences (e.g., going to school, moving to a new home or flying in an airplane)
  • things he hears about (e.g., being in a fire or a car crash)

You can help your child manage his fears by providing warmth and structure:

  • Provide warmth.
    • Give him time. He may cling to you until he’s comfortable. Let him have a favourite comfort toy. Once he feels secure, encourage him to try something on his own.
    • Accept his fear, don’t make fun of him. If your child thinks a monster is under the bed, understand that he’s scared.
    • Be reassuring. Calmly assure him that he’s safe and that you are close by.
    • Listen. Encourage your preschooler to talk about his fears. Let him know everyone is afraid at times. Remind him how he got over an earlier fear.
    • Don’t force your child into a situation he fears.
  • Provide structure.
    • Introduce him to new places and people ahead of time (e.g., before he starts preschool).
    • Talk with your child after a fearful situation (e.g., “You were really worried when you went to the clinic. It can be scary when you don’t know what’s going to happen. Now that you know about the clinic next time it won’t be so scary”.). Try to get him to talk about it in his own words.
    • Give him information. For example, if he’s afraid of falling down the toilet, tell him he’s safe and that this can’t happen. Although information won’t always make the fear go away, it may help him begin to understand.
    • Show your confidence. Sometimes parents are afraid of things themselves—it’s important that you model confidence, even if you don’t feel it.
    • Moving out into the world

      It's a new experience for you to watch your child move out into a world of possible dangers. Being too protective can make your child more afraid to try new things. If you ignore or make fun or his fears he won’t feel safe or secure. Try for a balanced approach.
      • Think ahead about how to make new experiences as safe as possible.
      • Let him feel the joy of being successful at something new.

Understanding limits

Preschoolers are beginning to understand that everyone has limits about what they can and can’t do. It will take several years for them to fully understand the idea of limits.

Setting limits in your family is about balance. If there are too many rules, your child may stop trying to do things for himself. If he has no limits, he may have difficulty learning which behaviour is okay and which is not okay. The limits you set will need to change as he grows.

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