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Children's Health

Fear of Men

11/23/2010

Question:

My 3 year old daughter spends plenty of time around uncles, grandpas, cousins, and other men and she loves to play and spend time with them, but every time a male come to visit her classroom (firefighters, pastors, etc.) she gets scared. Is this normal or should I be worried about?

Answer:

I don't think it is a problem since she is not afraid of all men, just unfamiliar men. At three years of age, your daughter still has some level of stranger anxiety which blossoms around 9 months of age into a full flower in the second year of life. It is certainly protective for the young who are out exploring their world now that they can crawl, walk, run, climb, and jump.

It's a natural reticence that gives the child time to look for social cues from parents and teachers to see if the strange person is safe to approach and be near. Many older toddlers and preschoolers do have fears related to strangers or adults who behave or look differently from expectations, for example a clown in white face paint, Santa Claus and his big beard and hat, the very elderly with wrinkles or a limp. Visual fears are a normal hallmark of the 3 year old, as they move into the mental growth that allows them to enter the world of make believe and fantasy.

Suzanne Dixon in the well respected text Encounters with Children (3rd ed.), suggests that adult caregivers provide three elements of assistance to children with regard to their fears: empathy, minimal discussion, and an opportunity to gain some control over what is fearful. For example, try focusing on an interesting aspect of a new person or that person's work, for example a fire engine rather than the fire fighter, the clown's trick, not the clown. Fears should always be respected not ridiculed or fed into. The child should always be reassured about his or her safety and support offered.

Finally, if the child's reaction is overwhelming to her or interferes with learning, it may be time to seek an evaluation with a qualified pediatric mental health professional. Your daughter's doctor may provide a list of recommended professionals other parents have found helpful.

I hope all is well soon.

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Response by:

Mary M Gottesman, PhD, RN, CPNP, FAAN Mary M Gottesman, PhD, RN, CPNP, FAAN
Professor of Clinical Nursing
College of Nursing
The Ohio State University