The four-year-old, while still afraid of many things, is beginning to enjoy his fear a bit. Unless he is a very sensitive, over-imaginative child, or one who is already anxious, he likes to be mildly frightened by stories or games. He has learned the words afraid and scared and will sometimes verbalize his fear by saying, “I’m scared.”
By the age of five the child is usually less afraid than he was earlier, but when he is five and a half or six a new period o£ fear often seems to begin. The child is now not so much frightened by noises or animals, but is much more aware of things that could happen to him, such as being lost, seeing burglars, being in the woods or alone on one floor of the house, being late to school, or not finding mother at home when he returns. The fear of witches, ghosts, and the supernatural is also entering in. Again, a stable child may take these in his stride, whereas a sensitive or disturbed youngster may be quite upset by them. The child’s world has expanded and his fears have expanded with it.
Some fears are protective. A child must learn some fear of the dangers of deep water, speeding cars, hot water, and fire. A certain amount of fear has always been necessary for man’s protection. But this sort of fear can be taught to a child as caution and can be coupled with what to do about it. The child must learn to fear a speeding car, but he can be taught how to cross a road safely. When he is two and a half or three, his mother can begin always to stop at the curb as she crosses the street and ask the little child to look to left and right. Gradually she can let him tell her when it is safe to cross. A little later he will be ready to cross beside mother without holding her hand. By the time he is four he will usually be old enough to cross a quiet street in safety. By the time he is five he will be able to go to kindergarten by himself, provided there are patrol boys at difficult corners. The small child should be taught about stop-and-go signs. In the same way, although a child must learn the dangers of deep water, he can be taught to swim and enjoy water. Although he must learn to fear fire, he can be taught how to light a match safely and use fire wisely.
Some fears, then, are normal to all children, and some are useful in teaching necessary caution. Others are an indication that something has gone wrong, perhaps only temporarily, in the life of the child. To treat such fears the parents must first seek the cause of the trouble. (Continue below to page 5)