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PARENTING
Opinion
Text in which the author defends ideas and reaches conclusions based on his / her interpretation of facts and data

What should I do if my child is afraid? How to manage fear in youngsters

Silencing a kid who is frightened is the worst thing to do: it’s more likely that a stressful event will become traumatic if they are ignored

Miedo niños
Fear is a primal emotion.Cavan Images (Getty Images/Cavan Images RF)

Fear is one of the words we least like to pronounce. When it comes to raising children, simply saying the word makes us feel uneasy and off-balance. Fear and disgust are two of the emotions that appeared earliest in human evolution. They are very important to our adaptation and survival. Despite this, we don’t like to talk about these emotions, and when our children feel afraid, we tend to downplay it. It’s difficult for us to accept the idea that fear is a necessary emotion.

Indeed, fear is the mother of all emotions, the primal emotion. But it has very bad press, and we tend to approach it incorrectly. The objective of this article is to highlight the value of fear, even if it is an unpleasant feeling. Fear informs us of the presence of a threat that exceeds our coping mechanism. That threat can be a stimulus, context or person. If I am facing a threatening situation (for example, giving a speech in front of hundreds of people) or threatening stimulus (for example, a spider, a dog bearing its teeth or a fast-moving car), fear will push me to run away, so I no longer feel bad. At that moment, the body will jump into action. A large amount of blood is drained from the face and head, which is why we look pale when we’re afraid and can become dizzy and nauseated.

At the cerebral level, a large amount of adrenaline and cortisol floods our brain, which makes it difficult for us to think and take conscious decisions, and easier for us to escape. The cerebral tonsils, the headquarters of unpleasant emotions such as fear, are hyperactivated to react in the best possible way to danger. In addition to being needed by the body, adrenaline and cortisol in low doses also help us start tackling tasks, such as preparing for an exam. The problem is when cortisol levels skyrocket — that’s when we get blocked. At the behavioral level, fear encourages us to avoid or escape from the threatening situation. To help us flee, blood is directed to the legs so that we can run and find somewhere safe.

There are three types of fears: innate, evolutionary and learned. Innate fears are those that we all have and that we inherited from our ancestors, such as the fear of objects or animals rushing at us at high speed. Evolutionary fears are those experienced by most children throughout their evolutionary development, such as the fear of monsters or that mom and dad will get sick. And lastly, learned fears are those that we have acquired in a single or repeated experience and that we have developed first-hand or by observing them in other people (vicarious learning).

Here are some guidelines and ideas to keep in mind when our children are afraid:

As a final reflection, it is worth remembering a phrase by Nelson Mandela: “The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

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