Monday, October 29, 2012

Fear of Strangers

A threatened sense of security, in fact, underlies many childhood dears. A child’s first predictable anxiety - a fear of strangers – surfaces midway through her first year. Before this time, a baby will smile at anyone. But by about six months, her mental development enables her to distinguish between familiar and unfamiliar faces. Because the unfamiliar ones tend to leave her confused and uncertain, she may cry or try to hide her face when a stranger – even a close relative – approaches. The best way to minimize this fear is to expose your child early on to a variety of people.

 Another security-related fear that arises at about this time is the child’s fear of being left by her parents – a development often referred to as “separation anxiety” or “separation protest.” It begins around the age of seven months, at first as a simple mental awareness that a familiar parental figure has disappeared from the scene. Later expressions of separation anxiety are more related to the child’s deepening emotional attachment to her parents: Distress at being apart form these primary suppliers of love and security, even for brief periods, usually emerges at around 18 months and may continue until the child is three years of age.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

How Children cope with fear

Despite their vulnerability to fears, children may develop a surprising array of psychological strategies for dealing with their own anxieties. You may notice your youngster, for example, going through a superhero phase of pretend play between the ages of three and five, when imagined fears tend to proliferate. Constantly reminded of their smallness and lack of control over events, children of this age often play the all powerful hero in their fantasy games as a way of fending off the fantasy villains that threaten them.

Other children try to overcome fears by experimenting with the source. For example, a child who is fearful of being flushed down then toilet may try to flush a toy down the drain. Mommy may find it annoying to have to retrieve a sopping wet toy from the toilet bowl, but the child’s reaction is quite the opposite: he feels reassured to see that the toy does not really disappear.

A youngster may also become quite strongly attracted to an object that he once feared, in an instinctive attempt to desensitize himself. If he was afraid of dogs, the child may suddenly stop to admire every dog that he sees. And may children use rituals as a method of holding their fears in check. A child who grows anxious and upset at the approach of bedtime is often comforted by a familiar routine – listening to a story, brushing teeth, then being tucked in and kissed goodnight – because it reinforces his sense of security.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The role of Imagination

But the main reason for an increase in irrational fears after 18 months is the child’s awakening imagination, which begins to intermingle with such emotions as anger and jealousy. These strong feelings often find expression in fears of imaginary enemies, such as robbers, monsters and bogeymen. The toddler may refuse to stay in a room by himself, or he may demand that objects like scary masks or stuffed animals be put somewhere out of sight.
Fears arising from his imagination reach a peak between the ages of three and five. Struggling to distinguish between real and make-believe, children of this age often invent fantastic explanations for things they do not understand, and in the process, they may assign human feelings and motives to inanimate objects.
In the movie The Wizard of Oz, an apple tree gets angry and hits Dorothy when she picks an apple. A scarecrow talks with a lion and a mean lady turns into a witch. To a three year old, all this is quite believable. And because of a young child’s egocentric view of the world – his tendency to see himself as the pivotal player in every event – he imagines how all this might affect him. It may be a natural step for him to go from watching the movie fantasy to worrying that a witch or a tree might attack him in his own backyard.
Children also acquire fears through experience. A child who has been stung by a bee may fear all insects, just as one who can remember a painful inoculation may cringe at the mere mention of the doctor’s office. Fears can be triggered as well by abrupt changes in the family situation, such as the birth of a new sister or brother, or the divorce of the parents.
From your perspective as an adult, it is not always easy to anticipate the impact of the things that your child sees and hears. Realistic scenes of violence on television are a case in point. A preschooler who laughs in delight as Saturday morning cartoon characters get flattened and “ker-boomed” might react quite differently to a dramatized gun battle between humans or to news coverage of a car bombing. The child might jump to the conclusion that such live-action disasters could happen to him. As you think about appropriate viewing guidelines for your family, remember that the moving images and dramatic sounds of television make it an extremely vivid medium for a small child.
Occasionally, even the words and expressions you use in casual conversation may spark fears in your child, whose grasp of the language is not as sophisticated as yours. When you offhandedly say “May boss is going to kill me,” your youngster might take the statement at face value and start to worry that your life is really in danger.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Why children have fear

All human beings feel fear at times; it is an innate reaction to potential danger, part of the human instinct for survival. And because babies and young children are so dependent on others for their security, they are prone to many more fears than adults.
A child expresses certain basic kinds of car long before she can talk. An infant, for example, will startle or cry when she hears a loud noise or feels like she is falling. As children grow older, more complex anxieties arise naturally from rapid changes in their emotional make-up and their expanding perception of the world around them.
Children’s interest in their environment increases as they enter their sound year of life, but their feeling of security is easily shaken by new experiences. They may be particularly skittish about sudden, unfamiliar sounds, such as the vacuum cleaner, passing fire engines or barking dog. During the toddler stage, a child’s fears seem to grow more ill-founded rather than less so. Partly this is because of her immature sense of spatial relationships and the child’s distorted sense of her own size in relation to the size of the thing around her. The youngster may display a fear of the toilet or the bath that is based on a concern about somehow being sucked down the drain.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Fears and Fantasies Part.II

Baffling as such developments may be to parents, this age of flourishing imagination is essential to a child’s well-being. Unfettered fantasy is the magical language of childhood: It helps the youngster adjust to the demands and frustrations of the real world by sheltering him from it. More importantly, it gives him the daring to explore. And imagining what can be is the first step toward true creativity – that uniquely human gift that your child will carry with him always.
Fears big and small are a universal fact of early childhood – probably unavoidable even for the securest of children. Your youngster may voice anxieties as farfetched as “Are monsters real, Mommy?” or as logical as “Will the doctor give me a shot?” The thing to remember is that any worry, however silly it may seem to a grownup, can be quite real and utterly daunting to a young child. As you offer your youngster reassurance and comfort at such times, you should try to do so without using the words “There’s nothing to be afraid of.” To the child, there certainly is.
Many common childhood fears, such as the fear of strangers and fear of the toilet, result from developmental changes and therefore appear at certain ages. These fears wax and wane and sometimes reappear at later stages, but in general, children simply outgrow them. By and large, if you let your child know that strong and loving adults are watching out for his welfare, this will provide the security he needs to overcome the passing fears of childhood.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Fears and Fantasies Part.I

For the first few years of life, children’s thought processes resemble those of our primitive ancestors: Youngsters are powerfully affected by invisible feelings and ephemeral images, but they cannot understand where these sensations come from. With their limited knowledge, young children find just about everything around them potentially scary. Until their mental abilities have matured enough to distinguish the real from the unreal, the external from the internal, youngsters are naturally susceptible to some degree of confusion and distress.
A child’s imaginative life begins to quicken around the time he turns two, a result of his newly acquired ability to create independent ideas on his own. Suddenly the youngster is the possessor of an entire kingdom of images that exist solely within hid mind: Side by side with the external realities of feeding and dressing, of riding in the car and playing with toys, the child now is contending daily with such illusory complexities as bears under his bed, monsters that chase him in his sleep and “friends” that are visible to him alone. At the same time, the child is struggling to sort out an inner world of intense feelings. Strong impulses that he will one day know by such names as jealousy and love and anger now strike him only as powerful sensations over which he has no control. These and other emotions, half-formed and only vaguely understood, blend with fantasy to create a host of fears and anxieties.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Curiosity and Privacy of a Child

As you strive for a balance between society’s sexual norms and your youngster’s natural curiosity, make sure not to shame or punish childish exploration. When your child innocently touches himself of plays with his genitals in public, try to distract him with a game or a story. Then matter-of-factly explain that touching his pensis is private – something not done in public. When sex play involves other children, the situation becomes more complicated and emotionally charged. Few parents remain composed upon discovering their three-year-old son playing doctor with the little girl next door. While shaming would be purely destructive, you should not allow this type of play to continue, either. Children’s curiosity is basically harmless, but youngsters also sense that this approach to uncovering mysteries is improper, and their explorations are mingled with anxiety and discomfort. They will be secretly grateful when you suggest that they get dressed and switch to a different game.

 Explain that while it is natural for them to be curious, you would prefer that they seek answers from you. Children are curious about adults, too. But at an early age they are not emotionally prepared to handle excessive exposure to adult nudity and sexuality. While an occasional glimpse of unclad parents is not cause for concern, frequent exposure to parental nudity is disturbing for young children, who may find the experience secretly exciting and feel guilty about their reactions. Take particular care that your child does not interrupt sexual intercourse. Children are likely to misinterpret it as physical or verbal violence and conclude that their parents are hurting each other.

If you do forget to lock your bedroom door, do not punish your child’s curiosity. Instead, ask that he leave the room while you get dressed, then sit down with him and respond to any concern he may show. You may wish to explain that sexual relations are so private that not even members of the same family are allowed to share in them. The respect for sexual privacy should be mutual. As you child approaches school age, he is apt to become suddenly modest and to show his own desire for privacy while dressing and bathing. Whenever such feeling develop, honor them matter-of-factly and accept them as once more sign of your child’s progress toward sexual maturity.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Parent as teacher

As your child’s sexual curiosity increases, she will turn to you for answers. Whether you welcome this role or not, your responses to her questions (box, above) will reveal not only what you want her to know but your own values and attitudes as well. If you fail to provide answers, she will get them elsewhere; more often than not, she will also get them wrong. In dealing with your child’s inquiries, remember that she is interested in reproduction, not grow-up sexual feelings. It is best to label anatomical parts correctly from the start; changing from the familiar to the formal name later adds unnecessary confusion. Avoid confusing your child, as well, by giving her more information than she asks for. Answer her questions promptly and briefly, and let her ask for repetition or clarification when she is ready. Finally, avoid farming and gardening analogies in your explanations. Children associate eggs and seeds with eating, leading them to imaginative but erroneous jumbles of the digestive and reproductive systems.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Sex Role and Stereotypes Part.II

The preschool and kindergarten years are often an emotionally trying phase of sexual development. As part of the natural effort to understand what it means to be male or female, a child predictably forms an intense attachment to the parent of the opposite sex and a confusing love-hate relationship with the same-sex parent during this time. Such behavior usually begins around the age of three, as the child’s strengthening identity and self-confidence instill a new sense of omnipotence. The little girl feels that she can do anything her mother does, while the little boy thinks he can do everything his father does. The sense of omnipotence may become so overpowering that the child secretly desires to take the place of the parent of the same sex. Under this childish spell, the boy’s attachment to his mother increases; he wants to have her all to himself and wishes his father out of the way.

He may announce that he is going to marry his mother when he grows up. The girl develops similarly possessive feelings toward her father. While these childhood fantasies are ultimately harmless, they create tensions and anxiety in the child. The boy still loves his father and realizes that he needs his protection – even as he is rejecting him as a rival. Such tensions often lead to unpredictable outbursts of obnoxious behavior and stubborn defiance of the same-sex parent. Child psychologists also point to these conflicts as the cause of frightful nightmares in which animals and monsters chase the anxious child. Parents can ease the tensions of this transition in several ways. First, you should recognize that it is a normal and necessary stage of sexual development. Gauge your reactions accordingly; remember that your child needs your love and support even if he appears to be rejecting your affection.

Above all, do nothing to encourage these fantasies. The kindest response is to explain firmly and patiently that children cannot marry their parents; while you appreciate the child’s affection, you already have a spouse, and a special grown-up relationship with him. Your reaffirmation of your own parental role and relationship will help your child resolve his conflicting emotions. By the age of five or six, children come to accept their place in the family hierarchy. If he cannot replace his father, the boy decides, then he will be like him, and the girl aspires to be like her mother. The normal and healthy outcome of this phase is a strengthening of masculinity in boys and femininity in girls, and an increased identification with the same-sex parent.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Sex Role and Stereotypes Part.I

Sex roles tell children what types of behavior are acceptable for their gender. Unlike gender, however, sex roles are not irrevocably molded. Adults may share or exchange roles such as breadwinner, housekeeper and nurturer, depending on their age and culture. And during childhood, toddlers experiment with, and even reverse, sexual roles before reaching a healthy norm. Providing model’s for a child’s sexual behavior used to be simple: Boys imitated their fathers and girls followed their mothers.

Nowadays, parents must compete with outside influences, from the peer pressures of preschools to the appeal of television. At the same time, many parents have abandoned the rigid concepts of role - or stereotypes – that encouraged assertive, aggressive behavior only in boys, while ascribing passive, dependent roles to girls. In guiding your child through this confusing and controversial stage, remember that rigidly-enforced stereotypes can damage your child’s emotional and sexual development. While boys will be boys and girls will be girls, parents should recognize that both genders encompass shades of masculinity and femininity.

 In their attempts to learn who they really are, boys may play with dolls and pretend to have babies, while girls may favor trucks and act out the parts of fathers. Such role-switching play is perfectly normal at the toddler stage and should not be interpreted as a sign of sexual confusion or maladjustment. Allow your toddler to experiment, while at the same time helping her understand clearly that she belongs to one sex. You can reinforce your child’s gender identity and still react positively to cross-gender play. If your tow-year-old son is bathing a doll, do not assume that he is playing at being a mother; instead, praise him for being a considerate daddy. Usually children’s experimentation with sex roles will diminish around the age of three. Regardless of how they play, make sure to instill in your little ones the feeling that you value them for the individuals they are, whether male or female.