Fear is one of the most intense primary emotions and derives from the perception of real or imagined danger.
Some fears are present in humans from birth and are therefore an integral part of our survival instinct. The fear of falling is, for example, innate, as is clear from the clutching reaction of newborns, known as the Moro Reflex. The cry that accompanies this reflex is like an actual cry of alarm to get their parents' attention. And so, from birth, the child is capable of seeking out help in order to avoid falling or not being properly supported.
The fear of abandonment is also innate. This anxiety is responsible for some of the newborn's unexplainable cries and the little one's instinct to attach itself to the breast in search of food and comfort.
Over the course of childhood, fears manifest themselves during periods of new and intensified learning activity. The child's steps toward independence and in general all of his or her newly acquired skills create a certain kind of disturbance in the child. Fears serve to draw the energy needed to adapt to all of these new situations. While children learn to manage their feelings of fear, they also learn how to control themselves and how to manage the drive towards new learning.
From around four months up to around one year, the baby might react with fear to the presence of a stranger, unfamiliar objects and unknown places. From the second half of the first year, the fear of separation from people the baby is attached to is also typical.
The alarm reactions common in the first year tend to diminish with experience and habit.
Toward the end of the second year, the fear of small animals manifests, then fear of the dark and of the imaginary images, sometimes disturbing, that animate the bedroom at night. Fear of animals and fear of the dark are most common toward the end of the second year and peak between five and eight years old. At this age, verbal reassurance is not much help, but actions are fundamental. It is not enough to say: ‘There is no monster’; it is important instead to do concrete checks with the child, moving furniture and curtains, opening up wardrobes and all possible hiding places. If the little one realizes that there is no real reason for being afraid of something, he or she will feel strong and experience deep gratification.
The child, from birth through the different growth stages that he or she will go through, asks for the support and closeness of mom and dad precisely because fear gives rise to unpleasant feelings. Parents should not try to prevent children from experiencing fear, but rather help them to find comfort in them in any event and to take their fears less seriously so that they can learn from them.