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Early childhood fear of loss: Consequences for life
Basically, fear is a good thing. It warns us of dangers and makes us cautious in certain situations. Scientists suspect that humans are confronted with fears not only from the time they are born, but also well before that. Some fears appear to different degrees in all children. This includes, for example, fear of the dark, being alone or loud noises. The fear of separation or loss is also normal - to a certain extent.
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A lack of eye contact can trigger separation anxiety in babies
An infant thinks he is part of his mother. If he begins to understand that he exists independently of her, this realization makes us unsure at first. The baby becomes extremely clingy and begins to cry when he can no longer see the mother. After all, the child doesn't know whether the caregiver will come back. "Children experience the 'disappearance' of the caregiver cognitively as a real loss, which means they first have to learn that this person is not lost in the long run," explains Professor Werner Stangl from the Institute for Education and Psychology at the Johannes Kepler University in Linz. "Here the loss of eye contact is enough to trigger fear. Repeated separation from the attachment figure stresses every child emotionally, which can also be demonstrated physiologically." The more closely the child is attached to a person, the stronger the fear will be.
The fewer caregivers, the more pronounced the fear
In this context, it is interesting that there are cultures in which the alienation that is so typical for us hardly takes place at all. It is believed that this is due to the very close individual relationships between mother and child in which our children often grow up. Nevertheless, every baby around the world must first learn to develop trust. Over time, it becomes more secure. Even if two-year-olds can get extremely upset when they are left to someone else, it is usually more protest than fear. They usually calm down quickly, realizing that the parents will be back. A child already has experience at this age. It has gained confidence and has already overcome its first fears. "Fear of loss presupposes a bond that has already taken place or the ability to bond and usually only occurs when an existing bond appears to be endangered, for example by another person. Fear of loss is also expressed as jealousy." After two and a half to three years, early childhood separation anxiety usually goes away. By then, the child should have learned - in small steps, if possible - to separate from people they trust for a certain period of time. In this context, the psychology professor points out that it is important "that the separation is experienced as something that does not affect the relationship."
Never downplay fears
Above all, a child who is afraid needs understanding. Laughing at it, shouting at it or even "throwing it into" the fear-inducing situation and, for example, simply sneaking away when the child suffers from separation anxiety, at most only increases the fear massively. You have to take the child and their fear seriously, but you can slowly get them used to a new situation. The goal is not to make the child "fearless", but to teach them that fear is something completely normal. That everyone is afraid, even the big ones, and that fears can be overcome. Tales of courage about little everyday heroes make sense here. This supports the child in coping with fear, provides a good basis for a conversation and, above all, conveys security.
The fear of fear is often the worst
Fear of loss is a fear that does not only occur in infancy. It can be stressful for a lifetime. "In later life there are always phases when you have to say goodbye to people. It plays a role how you experienced and coped with these processes in early childhood. This also includes saying goodbye to yourself, for example when you get older Farewell to childhood and adolescence. "
The roots of the fear of loss almost always lie in childhood and the consequences are serious: People who suffer from fear of loss often tend to cling in relationships, although objectively there is no reason to do so. Only then do they trigger a separation process, which in turn confirms the fear and makes the fear of fear even greater. A vicious circle that you can only get out of by coming to terms with your early childhood experiences.
Fear is sometimes very clever at hiding
If the fear of loss already takes on forms in childhood that are no longer considered normal - for example, if the child is absolutely inconsolable when the mother is away - then a conversation with a pediatrician makes sense. It becomes difficult when fear is not recognized as such. "If a child is restless in their behavior, if they don't feel like doing anything, if they seem absent, if they are unfocused, irritable or even aggressive, then you should pay attention," warns Dr. Ulrich Fegeler from the professional association of paediatricians. "Physically, fears are often hidden behind symptoms such as loss of appetite, dry coughs, susceptibility to infections and especially non-specific pain, especially abdominal pain." But stuttering or bed-wetting can be just as much a picture of fear as compulsive acts. With every conspicuous behavior you should always remember that there could be fears behind it.
Withdrawal of love is cruel
If fear of loss becomes massive, for example when it shows up in later years by avoiding conflict situations, then the psychologists suspect there are two possible reasons for this: an excessively strong bond with the mother or parents with accompanying pampering, or the opposite - namely a constant one Experience of rejection in childhood combined with hostile feelings on the part of the mother or both parents. "Separation," says Professor Stangl, "can not only be experienced physically, but also purely psychologically, for example in the form of a refusal to communicate." In the opinion of medical specialists, it is dangerous for the development of a child with regard to fear of loss to use a personalized, overly emotional form of argument and to work with means such as "You-don't-love-your-mother-anymore" or withdrawal of love. Because the consequences of such a misguided culture of debate can be considerable. They begin with avoidance of arguments out of fear of losing those whom one criticizes and lead to depression. The Medical Association therefore points out that children must learn to argue without developing fear of loss. So that they know that an argument does not mean the deprivation of love.
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