Everytime Elizabeth Oyando prepares a smoothie, her 16-month-old son runs into his room and and covers his ears while she fires up the blender. “Basically, my son is terrified of loud noises, such as the blender, hair blow dryer, motorbikes, you name it,” says Oyando. Usually, a happy little boy, he would jump in fright when he heard very loud noises.
Fear of loud noises, strangers, or other objects and events is a natural part of childhood. Apart of normal development, being afraid is a sign that a child is gaining awareness of the world and trying to make sense of it, experts say. Fortunately, most fears arrive at predictable stages, and with some insight, you can help your child navigate her fears and walk more confidently through childhood.
Newborns have two fears. Loud noises and falling. Babies’ brains and nerves grow rapidly in the first two years of life, but they are born with immature nervous systems. This means they cannot interpret or handle certain sensory input such as loud noises or the feeling of falling. That is why passing an infant around to loving relatives may not bother your baby, but set him down too fast or make an abrupt, loud noise, and he will cry in fright.
As her nervous system matures and she focuses on her surroundings, new fears crop up, and by eight to 10 months, the concept of object permanence comes into play.
Prior to this milestone, when things disappear, they no longer exist in the baby’s mind. But now, they understand that things disappear and they still do exist. So when their mother or father leaves the room, the child wonders where they went and when they are coming back.
Along with a child’s first steps at around one year old comes the growing need for independence and control over her environment. And that means things beyond her control can frighten her such as jumping dogs or thunder. Then as he grows older, the fear of creatures such as ants creeps in.
By the age of two, a child’s imagination kicks into gear as she imagines things she can’t see, which opens the door to fear of the dark and monsters.
Use your child’s imagination to his advantage by asking him to consider what would help him work through his fears. While acknowledging his fears, try to keep things light, so you don’t build them up either. For those normal childhood ‘phobias,’ parents can gradually help their children become used to things by showing them how to interact gently with whatever they fear.