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Growing up

Understanding the Fear of the Unknown in Children

Scary things happen when you don’t have experience

Your preteen used to be sociable, and eager to try new things. Now every day is a rollercoaster – happy one moment, grumpy the next. The fear of the unknown.

First she wants to play with the toys in her room, then she dresses up and goes to the mall. She can be worried and withdrawn. It seems your daughter can’t make up her mind if she wants to be a child or an adult.

You can remember you had mood swings at that age but you can’t say why.

The anxieties of growing up

10 and 11-year-olds like their routine but they also get bored easily. They have a desire to try something new but are also anxious about it at this age. And they don’t like to take new responsibilities. How to grow up with this fear of change? How do parents react to it?

Grownups tend to forget that they were going through the same anxieties:

  • Are my clothes OK? Do I look good enough?
  • I can’t dance. I’ll just sit in the corner.
  • I don’t want to make a fool of myself and say something stupid in front of everybody in the class.
  • What if someone beats me in the game? I want to be the best.

If you go back to the past, you’ll remember these preteen worries. If you share them with your child, she is likely to open up to you. She will realize this is a normal part of growing up. Your daughter will feel relieved for telling her worries to someone she trusts.

Why do children have the fear of the unknown?

Growing up is hard because you are forced to leave the comfortable. You have to go through new challenges and accept new tasks.

Aren’t we, adults, also often afraid of change? That is nothing else but the fear of the unknown.

Fear is a very useful emotion. It protects us and helps us stay alive. And anxiety is a normal body reaction because it prepares us for danger.

Therefore, fear is a part of every new experience. You are bound to be anxious until you get used to what you are doing. Until you really find out what it is all about, you will be afraid of the unknown.

The core of children’s fear of the unknown

Preteens are anxious because they are concerned about what impression they will leave on others. They don’t want to look stupid or embarrass themselves. Children and adolescents are very sensitive toward criticism and afraid of competition. A preteen fears losing control because she believes a negative outcome could endanger her reputation and overall integrity.

Preteens are actually afraid of failure. Well, aren’t we all? As parents, we should let them know that failure is also an option. It is better to try something and fail, than regret not trying it at all. New experiences make us grow as persons.

What helps the child with the fear

Peers play a huge part in one’s growing up. With collective stimulation, your child will try things she would never try on her own. Peers can turn a preteen’s fear of the unknown into curiosity and excitement in trying new things.

However, this life lesson takes time to learn and many adults haven’t learned it themselves.

In his article Early Adolescence and the Fear of Change, Dr. Pickhardt suggests parents tell their daughter she shouldn’t be afraid of growing up. Growing up means staying the same person, just being richer with the new experience.

You can give your daughter advice to accept a bit of fear as exciting. To see it as a challenge to learn how to do something new. Children and adults overcome fear in the same way:

Start with small, then go towards bigger. Repeat until you are not afraid anymore. Your new actions will become your future behavior – a habit like any other.

“Scary at first becomes comfortable with practice and learning. Courage to try builds confidence this way.”

Dr. Pickhardt

How parents should see the fear

Growing up is a process that lasts for years. Since every child has their own pace of growth, parents must have an understanding of their children’s phases. Learning how to get outside of the comfort zone takes time.

Therefore, let your kids go back and forth. Playing with the toys one moment and putting on makeup the next. This is a normal part of everyone’s development. It may be frustrating to you, but it’s helpful to the child.

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