ghostFears are a natural part of children’s lives, although some children experience more fears than others. Parents report a variety of children’s fears at different stages of development. For example, many children are fearful of the dark, sleeping alone, thunderstorms, ghosts under the bed or in the closet, fires (especially during fire prevention week), or accidents that might happen to themselves or their family members. These common fears take place when children are exposed to something in life that they don’t understand or feel they can’t control. By and large, a sympathetic explanation, a light on, a door left open, and a comforting hug are sufficient to allay these fears. Although for some children these fears may be more persistent than for others, these are very normal fears that most children experience temporarily.

Nightmares, or what children call “bad dreams,” are the most annoying of all. They seem to emerge at different stages and rarely happen for only one night at a time. Initially, children need comfort, a drink of water, or a trip to the bathroom. A night light and sometimes even a full light can help them get back into the habit of sleeping through the night.


It’s not a good idea to comfort your children by having them join you in bed. Although an occasional exception for thunderstorms or a particularly bad nightmare causes absolutely no problem, sleeping in a parent’s bed can become a comfortable solution for children but an uncomfortable one for parents.

If nightmares are becoming a regular pattern, be sure the child isn’t watching TV within an hour and a half before bedtime. Research finds that children don’t sleep as well after TV. Stars or stickers on a calendar for sleep-through nights rapidly add up to better sleep for all. However, the fears are real, so they won’t disappear immediately. Be patient and persevering as your child learns to be courageous.


Some children seem to be fearful of almost any new experience. These children require some special parenting approaches because they require preparation and support for new experiences. Giving these more inhibited children some advance expectations and a positive message of confidence can make a difference for their adjustment to new experiences.

If negative and threatening approaches are used, they can be harmful. Throwing children who are fearful of water into the water will be more likely to frighten them than letting them observe and gradually permitting them to become accustomed to the water. Power struggles about their fears seem to exacerbate them. Adult talk within their hearing also makes their fears worse. Overprotecting them, over talking, and being fearful with them gives them more reason to feel fearful. Because they are fearful, giving them choices usually results in their rejecting new experiences.

Parents should be positively assertive and help children break tasks into small steps, so they’ll soon become more confident as they experience successful independent adjustments.

©2009 by Sylvia B. Rimm. All rights reserved. This publication, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without written permission of the author.