When a Preschooler Is Afraid

Frightened preschooler

A few times recently in Mission Friends®, we have had one child left for a while after the other preschoolers have been picked up by their parents. Most have been OK with this as we continued playing. But one time I could tell that the preschooler became anxious. She made comments like, “I’m the only one left,” and “Where is my mom?”

When we think of preschoolers’ fears, we tend to think of a traumatic event that has happened to cause them to be afraid. We think of events such as a tornado or car accident. Some preschoolers will also become fearful in situations that are less traumatic. I have been in a store and seen the frightened look on a preschooler’s face when he lost sight of his mother, even though she was only a few steps away and knew where he was. Some preschoolers also become fearful when a situation is out of the ordinary or out of their routine. In the case of my Mission Friend above, her train of thought may lead her to think, “If Mommy usually picks me up at the same time as the other children, what if this means she is not coming for me?” This is a scary thought for a preschooler.

There are several things you can do to give reassurance to a preschooler when he or she becomes fearful.

  • Listen to what the preschooler says. You may detect fear in his tone of voice as well as the statements he makes. Ask questions to help him talk about the thing he is fearful of, so you can give him reassurance.

  • Watch what the preschooler does. Preschoolers may not have the words to verbalize their fears. Look for non-verbal signs such as crying easily or regressing to previous behaviors (thumb-sucking, bathroom accidents, etc.).

  • Move closer to the preschooler. The presence of an adult near them can be reassuring. Sit next to the preschooler to read a book or rock a younger preschooler who is in your care.

  • Tell the preschooler a Bible thought that is comforting. Throughout the book, Sometimes I Am Afraid, there are several Bible thoughts to say to preschoolers to help them know that God is with us and helps us. Read the book with a preschooler and say the Bible thoughts together.

  • Sing with a preschooler. A familiar song such as “Jesus Loves Me” can be comforting to a preschooler.

  • Involve the preschooler in an activity to help him express his feelings, such as drawing, using puppets, pounding clay, or caring for a doll.

  • Speak reassuring words. Rather than belittling a preschooler or using sarcasm, give him reassurances. Answer questions in a way the preschooler can understand. Give the preschooler comfort and encouragement.

When a preschooler is anxious or fearful, these are simple things we can do to give reassurance. Sometimes their fears do come from traumatic events such as a natural disaster, and those fears can be long-lasting. Other times their fears may seem less traumatic to us, but the fears are real to preschoolers. We live out our faith as we reassure preschoolers of God’s love and care.

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