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"Hold- a me Mommy" ©
(how to calm your child's fears )

"Hold- a me Mommy" is a phrase parents hear frequently.

There are many reasons for the request. They range from a child's simple need to be close to feelings of insecurity and fear. Children's fears can be baffling to parents. It is easy to lose patience with the child when we are unable to calm their fears. Fears are a normal and natural part of childhood.

We see fears first between the ages of one and two, as infants and toddlers become aware of this great big world. In some ways these fears may be reassuring to us as parents because they are an indication that our child is developing as he or she should. Fears are more overwhelming to young children because they do not have the experience, cognitive ability, or means to deal with fears.

There appear to be certain fears that develop during each stage of development. Remember that each child is unique and while one may be fearful of one thing at one age, another child may not be frightened of that but of something quite different at the same age.

Age One to Two:

Very large objects or people, loud noises, things that surprise or catch them off guard, and often strangers.

What to Do: Hold your child snugly in your arms. Convey through your touch that you are not afraid and that you will not let anything happen to them. Gently stroke the child's head and/or back with soothing strokes and talk to the child saying things like "I know you're frightened: The loud noise scared you. I have you and I will take care of you!" We are often inclined to think that it is not important to use words with very young children. However, words convey trust to the child that we hear them and are responding to that feeling. It is in these moments that we are beginning to develop the "emotional intelligence" of children.

Age Three to Four:

This is generally when the child's imagination really comes into play in contributing to fears. Children have vivid imaginations and cannot differentiate between what is real and what is fantasy. I have strong opinions, based on a great deal of reading and experience, that much of what children view on TV has a negative influence on their emotions and behaviors. Cross-marketing of TV show toys and products also contributes to this problem,

What to Do: Help your child see that the things he fears often do not really exist. For example, if he is frightened at bedtime and tells you there are monsters in his closet, under his bed, or elsewhere, listen to him. Suggest that you do a "monster check" with him. Get him his own "monster check kit" complete with a flashlight, magnifying glass, play spectacles, etc. Let him "lead" the way. Get down on your knees with your child and look under the bed and in the closet. Make a game of sorts out of it, but take it seriously. No ridiculing, shaming, or teasing -this will reduce the child's trust in sharing feelings.

Age Five to Nine:

Real life dangers -car accidents, shootings, robberies, natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods are perhaps their greatest fears. These events are, seen on TV, in the movies, and in some cases in their own neighborhoods. Children in this age group often do not have the emotional maturity to keep such events in perspective.

What to Do: Children need to be able to learn strategies that will help them feel more in control of their own safety. Knowing how to avoid real life dangers should ease the fears. Teaching "stranger danger" strategies is one example. Giving children guidance in TV viewing would be another such strategy. Children who are exposed to more of this media and TV violence tend to feel more vulnerable and exhibit more anxieties than children who spend time in more creative activities.

Be careful in each stage of not passing on your own fears. It is important to let children know that as adults we also have fears. However, we can face most of them and work through them, Facing fears and working through them are important "life skills" to model for our children. Most times, when a child says "hold- a me Mommy" he or she really only wants a little undivided attention and cuddling. Maybe, even, she realizes that you need that too! Whatever the case a reassuring hug is the best way to send the message to a small child "You are loved, you are safe, and 'Mommy will hold a -you'!"

copyright by Marge Hampton May 2001. First appeared in POSITIVE PARENTING magazine

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