Parenting Tips: Dealing with Fear and Anxiety in Young Children

Keys to helping your child feel secure.



Ages 0 to 2

Babies begin to experience stranger anxiety at about 6 months of age. Separation anxiety, also common, reaches a peak at about 18 months as toddlers become highly sensitive to the comings and goings of important people in their lives.


There is no doubt that the presence of consistent, nurturing caregivers is crucial to helping young children feel secure.


What You Can Do

Learning to manage fear is a lifelong process that begins in infancy. While too much of this emotion can limit children’s overall development and pleasurable interactions, a manageable amount can help keep them safe. Make sure you:

  • Talk a baby through anxious feelings.
  • Do activities that help toddlers cope with separation anxiety.
  • Talk about fears.


Ages 3 to 4

Some 3-year-olds are disturbed by events or situations that are not what they’ve come to expect.Fear of the dark is also common at this age. It is a time when many children develop nightmares.

13At 4 years old, many children are afraid that if a grandparent or a pet dies, they will die, too.


What You Can Do

You are an important role model and guide as children explore and learn about themselves. Here are some suggestions:

  • Accept children’s feelings.
  • Offer comfort.
  • Encourage discussion.
  • Offer ways children can express or calm their fears.
  • Help prepare children for situations they may find frightening.
  • Try to determine the actual cause of the fear.
  • Reduce exposure to scary things.


Ages 5 to 6

At 5 and 6, children are beginning to compare themselves with others their age. Sometimes children this age are afraid of making mistakes or looking foolish.


What You Can Do

Because at this stage of development the world has become a mirror into which children look, important adults in their lives need to make sure that what is reflected back is positive and supportive. Here are some things you can do:

  • Examine how you look at and react to yourself.
  • Create an environment of acceptance.
  • Celebrate the small stuff.
  • Demonstrate and encourage appropriate risk taking.
  • Talk about the importance of practice.
  • Have “take-a-risk” days. Once a week, or more, choose a challenge and work together to support each other in trying something new.


What to Expect Next

At 7 and 8, preadolescence is setting in. Now all those 5- and 6-year-old insecurities are multiplied. Fortunately, children this age are better able to discuss their feelings and may be able to distinguish what someone says about them from what they know to be true. More advanced problem-solving and conflict-resolution skills can help older children work through and deal with criticism.


While children this age want to be accepted, 7- and 8-year-olds are beginning to enjoy being “different.” Keep in mind that they may be experiencing harsh inner criticism, but will show it less than younger children because it isn’t “cool.” Your sensitive attention and support are vital.