Who's afraid of the fire alarm or going to preschool? A comparative study of early childhood fears and caregivers' responses to fear in Australia and Canada

Sorin, Reesa (2004) Who's afraid of the fire alarm or going to preschool? A comparative study of early childhood fears and caregivers' responses to fear in Australia and Canada. In: Proceedings of the AARE Conference 2004. From: Doing the public good: Positioning educational research, 29 November - 2 December 2004, Melbourne University, VIC, Australia.

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As an emotion, fear can have both positive and negative effects. It can alert people to potential danger and motivate them to choose a path of action or reaction. It can also bond people together in collaboratively seeking protection from the feared object. However, fear can also impede its victims' cognitive processes, behaviour and social interactions. Memory, problem-solving ability, perception and choices for action can be obstructed due to fear, and self-esteem, emotion regulation and sociability hindered by fear.

Fear and other emotions have both a biological and a cultural component. As many as ten emotions are considered to be innate; many sharing universal understanding and display rules. For example, happiness is displayed with a smile; surprise with eyes open and eyebrows raised. Other emotions tend to have culturally specific ways of understanding and display. Each culture passes these ways on to children from birth, through everyday interactions with the young child. Yet as they grow, some children are considered to be "emotionally literate" - to be aware of and understand emotions and emotion expression in themselves and in others - and other seem to lag behind, to have problems understanding and expressing their feelings and empathising with others' feelings. Emotional literacy, then, seems to be a learned skill and one that cannot be left to chance acquisition. Educators need to understand emotions and emotion displays and how best to guide children to becoming emotionally literate. In this multicultural world, multiplicity of emotion understanding and display needs to be considered not only to aid in this understanding but also to offer educators a variety of strategies to implement effective emotion education programs with their students.

The study described here focused on preschool children and the emotion of fear; kinds of fears, how children display these fears and how caregivers respond to fear. Utilising preschool venues in Australia and Canada, caregivers (adults working in early childhood settings) were asked what their preschool-aged children were afraid of, how they display their fear, and how, as caregivers, they responded to the fear. While many responses were similar in both countries in these areas, incidences of reporting varied widely in some fears, fear displays and responses to fear. For example, 55% of Canadian caregivers reported young children to have a fear of loud noises, whereas only 11% of Australian caregivers reported this fear. Fifty-nine percent of Australian caregivers reported that their students had a fear of preschool, while no Canadian caregiver specifically mentioned this fear. Twice as many Australian caregivers reported that fearful children withdraw and hide. In responding to fear, more Canadian caregivers said that they planned activities to address fears before they occurred. Caregivers' responses to fear have been compiled as a table to offer Early Childhood Educators a variety of ways to respond to fear and develop emotional literacy in their students.

Item ID: 7616
Item Type: Conference Item (Research - E1)
ISBN: 1324-9320
Keywords: caregiver fear response; children's fears; early childhood education
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Date Deposited: 15 Feb 2010 03:45
FoR Codes: 13 EDUCATION > 1399 Other Education > 139999 Education not elsewhere classified @ 100%
SEO Codes: 93 EDUCATION AND TRAINING > 9399 Other Education and Training > 939999 Education and Training not elsewhere classified @ 100%
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