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Childhood fears are natural, but can also be frustrating and disheartening for parents. Since young children often have trouble separating fantasy from reality and communicating their feelings, it’s often difficult to know what they’re afraid of or why. Here are five of the most common fears children face today, and how parents can help overcome them.

The Dark

Many kids are scared of the dark because they cannot connect what they see when the lights go out to what is normally there during the day. Thus, an old sweater over a chair can look like a ghost, and the creak of a house settling could be a burglar in their minds. Classic solutions include nightlights or soothing bedtime routines such as lullabies or soothing bedtime stories.

In addition, you can de-mystify the night by explaining common sounds, such as the furnace in the basement or the wind rustling. Emphasize that mom and dad are there to keep the kids safe and that measures to do so have been taken, such as locking doors and windows.

The Dentist or Doctor

Many parents tell their children that they need to visit these professionals in order to be healthy. The problem is that for young kids, health is an abstract concept. They think in concrete terms, based on what they see, hear and experience. Often, what they experience in the dentist or doctor’s office includes scary instruments, loud sounds and perhaps even pain. You can counteract this by coming alongside your child at appointments. Ask the dentist or doctor for permission to stay in the exam room with your child.

Help the professional explain the tools he or she will use for an examination, what they do, and what they’re supposed to sound and feel like. For example, the tool used to clean teeth is a lot like a toothbrush because it makes a whirring sound and may tickle, but will not hurt. If your child will experience pain, such as a shot or a filling, be honest about where and how long it will hurt, but also reassure your child that the doctor or dentist will minimize this as much as possible. Ask about numbing creams or non-invasive numbing procedures, such as laughing gas. Going to a family friendly dentist that has experience working with children can also help ease their fears, according the professionals at Dentistry Plus.

Animals and Bugs

Some kids are eager to play with pets or find out just how many legs a centipede or spider has, but to other children, nature is terrifying. This can be for many reasons. Maybe a big dog has jumped on them unexpectedly, or maybe they’re afraid of stings and bites. In the case of insects, protect your kids with repellent, and emphasize that most insects are scared of humans. Unless harassed, they will not bother your child.

Also explain that most bites and stings are highly treatable at home and will feel better in a couple of days. For animals like dogs and cats, teach your child to approach slowly and treat the animal gently. If your child is truly upset in the presence of a dog, cat, or other pet, you can ask a relative or neighbor with a friendly animal to help him or her “practice” by spending supervised time with the pet. Reading books or watching movies where children have fun with pets may also help.

Separation Anxiety

Most kids will go through a period of separation anxiety in their lives. This is especially common among preschoolers and kindergartners who are attending school for the first time. If this is a problem for your child, enlist the teacher’s help. He or she can distract your child at drop-off time with a game or activity. Emphasize that you are coming back, and never sneak out of a classroom or your home without saying goodbye. At the same time, don’t prolong the goodbyes, either. A quick hug and kiss should do it. You can also give your child a small object as a reminder of you, such as a scarf with your perfume on it. Most teachers will be understanding, though your child may need to keep the object in a cubby.

Natural and Other Disasters

Even young kids pick up on what makes the news, and often, those are tragic incidents like natural disasters, shootings, kidnapped children and so forth. The best way to counteract this fear is to keep the news off around kids, but if they do happen to see something, you can address it. Walk your children through how to prepare for a weather incident and the type of things your family needs (food, water, batteries, and so on).

Show your children that your family is well-prepared. Emphasize that shootings and kidnappings are rare, and that parents, teachers, police and firefighters are there to keep kids safe. Remind your child of a few basic rules, such as never go anywhere with someone you don’t know, alert a teacher or other adult if someone at school is threatening you, and always keep mom and dad’s phone numbers and information at hand.

Childhood is meant to be joyous, but can also be frightening for kids and parents alike. Kids experience many fears growing up, and it can be tough to know how to handle them. Tips like these can help make you and your kid feel more secure.

Earnest Parenting: help for parents who want to help kids overcome fear.