Parents are sometimes disconcerted if their child cries a lot and shows signs of discomfort, fear and stress, despite all their efforts to provide protection and safety for their little one. It becomes quite clear in the early years that every child has to deal with and eventually overcome its own hurdles, which also include confronting its childhood fears, and no progress in development can be made without doing so. That notwithstanding, parents are in a position to provide helpful support to their children in this regard.

Grimm’s fairy tales are often about children’s fears. Hansel and Gretel, for example, is about the worst thing that can happen to a child: namely being ostracised by its parents. Not every child can bear to listen to this fairy tale!

In addition, in Little Brother and Little Sister the two child protagonists flee from a loveless home and hide in a hollow tree on the first night away from home, which turns into a symbol of protection and comfort! If one does not experience protection at home, one can find it in the outside world, which is what this comforting picture is trying to tell us!

It is the other way round with Little Red Riding Hood: in the dark forest, far from the safety of her home, she has an unpleasant encounter with the wolf. The wolf appears in many fairy tales as the embodiment of evil, of which one must be afraid; indeed, it can be seen as the very symbol of fear, as is also the case in The Wolf and the Seven Little Goats. Fairy tales make it clear that being a child is no simple matter at all, because one can be terribly misunderstood as a child and therefore feel abandoned as a consequence thereof! We adults, who pride ourselves in being rational and down-to-earth, find it difficult to counter children’s fears in a helpful manner because they appear to us to be unrealistic, incomprehensible and therefore unfounded.

Every child goes through certain phases of development on its path towards maturity, to which fears and anxieties absolutely belong. Fear of strangers, of being alone, of the dark, of ‘wild’ animals or ghosts under the bed; all of these children’s fears are part and parcel of the advancing cognitive-intellectual development. The more the brain develops, the more differentiated the imagination becomes, which then begins at a certain age to depict the things that could happen. The small child’s fear is thus very much tied to the present, but with increasing brain development, fears about the future begin to emerge, which conjure up a variety of frightening images about all the things that could happen if only…

Fear, with its strong emotional turmoil and the corresponding physical reaction it causes, initially provides enhanced protection and gives the child itself an important learning experience: fear is like a wave, which comes and then goes again! And besides: thanks to fear one becomes vigilant and cautious, which is a very important lesson indeed. Bunnies that develop no fear of the fox would have a much lower chance of survival

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