Facing fears: Uh oh….and oh no!
by Dr. Maureen O’Brien
Posted on Thursday, October 3, 2019
Being afraid is part of being human. Some typical toddler fears (darkness, loud noises, being alone) are logical to us adults because we remember having them ourselves. Other fears seem irrational at first, but become clearer when we understand how young children’s minds work. Let’s take the example of separation anxiety. Why would a child who has been happily passed amongst adults as an infant suddenly become fearful? The answer lies in brain advances that happen at 6 months and (sorry!) can last up to 3 years. Babies who once were generally happy having basic needs met– sleep, food, affection – now realize that Mom or Dad exists even when they don’t see them. This awareness also signals to the child “Hey, you’re not with ME. Come back!” And any parent will tell you, this can interrupt sleep (https://www.megfaure.com/is-separation-anxiety-affecting-your-babys-sleep/), make drop off at child care a nightmare, and disrupt daily life in other ways.
What’s a parent to do? Three things: (1) accept this stage as normal, because it’s a sign of cognitive growth; (2) reassure and keep a handle on your own feelings (anxiety can be contagious); and (3) teach your child coping strategies that they can practice. From reading “feelings” books to cuddling stuffed animals to using our poker faces when our children act afraid, we can act as our children’s first emotional role models. So, relax if you can: your family will get through this stage just fine. (link for more tips: https://www.webmd.com/parenting/baby/separation-anxiety)