How do people hide their self-harm

Strengthening children's self-confidence - this is how it works

With the birth of a child, the fears of the young parents multiply. The psychologist Silvia Schneider explains how mothers and fathers can best protect their offspring - and when they should trust them

GEO WISSEN: Professor Schneider, even people who have never been fearful in their lives suddenly develop fear after the birth of their first child. How come

PROF. SILVIA SCHNEIDER: Having a child doesn't change your personality. But this turning point in life undoubtedly makes mothers and fathers more anxious. This can be explained biologically: for every complex organism the most important and most difficult challenge is to create and raise offspring and thus to preserve its own genes.

Parents' fear is a purposeful mechanism in nature?

Yes, and many fears are justified. A child would not survive without care. Parents have to be vigilant where the offspring are not. It is therefore imperative, especially in early infancy, to keep an eye on the child.

What do mothers and fathers fear most often?

In the first few months of the newborn's life, they are primarily concerned about survival. The older the offspring is, the more fears are inflamed by the dangers that arise from the activity of the child. From primary school age onwards, concerns mainly revolve around the time in which the child independently moves further and further away from the parental home. In puberty the fear shifts again: Now there is great concern that the offspring could harm themselves, for example embark on a dangerous test of courage, take drugs or allow themselves to be carried away with criminal acts.

Do mothers have different fears than fathers?

No, the fears are similar. But their extent is different. Studies show that fathers usually have more confidence in their children and take greater risks with them. Researchers have asked parents to playfully throw their toddler into the air and catch it. The result: the fathers tossed the little ones up rather energetically, the mothers, on the other hand, were often barely able to take their hands off them. Her fear was too great that the child might be harmed in the process.

How can fathers or mothers deal with their fear?

To suppress them - that is not enough. Children notice when a mother or father tries to hide the fact that they are tense or nervous. Therefore, parents must learn to gradually overcome fear. There are three ways of doing this.

On the one hand, they should be fully informed. If you know how low the risk of infection is, how few children are really victims of a crime, what behavior is completely normal at what age, then you no longer run the risk of developing completely exaggerated fears.

On the other hand, they have to practice trusting their child. If you want to hold it back out of fear of something - such as going to school alone - you should say to yourself: It will do it! Because the older it gets, the better its sense of how far it should go in dangerous situations.

And finally, mothers and fathers should keep making each other aware that there is no such thing as zero risk. As banal as it sounds, it is absolutely impossible to save a child from all the risks in life. Anyone who tries this becomes the greatest danger to their offspring themselves.


In order for the child's organism to develop healthily, it is dependent on stimuli from the environment and good interaction with the parents. If parents are overly careful with the newborn - protecting it from all external influences such as new surroundings or strangers - this can lead to "regulatory disorders", as researchers call it.

The child may not sleep properly, cry a lot, or have difficulty gradually taking in new food. It does not learn enough to regulate arousal - which is extremely important for healthy development. In addition, the fears of the parents are closely linked to the child's personality development: if the adults are afraid, the offspring also feel discouraged.

Can you explain that?

This is particularly evident in the children's fear of being separated from their parents. This "strangling" is a completely normal reaction at the age of about eight months: the child is afraid of losing his or her caregiver. For example, as soon as the mother or father turn away from him, they even scream out of the room. But the parents - especially the mother - have a major influence on how strong the separation anxiety is and when it subsides again.

We have been able to show in studies: the more difficult it is for a mother to let her child discover its surroundings on its own, the sooner she intervenes, the greater his fear of being left alone. It becomes hesitant and hesitant, observes rather than actively practicing its dexterity and testing its limits. But that is exactly what makes the mother fear that an accident might happen to the child.

The problem is, this also happens when the mother has the best of intentions. It simply arises from the interaction between the child and the adult.

So is there a feedback link between parental and child fear?

Yes. For a long time, psychologists have only worried about children's fears. But now the mothers and fathers also come into focus. We now know that many mental disorders in parents or children are the result of a process between the two sides that is self-reinforcing. When I treat a child in my practice who is more afraid than average, I dedicate some of the sessions only to the parents. And it often shows that they too suffer from severe fears.

How are fears carried over to the child?

In some cases, certain genes play a role. But the transmission often also takes place via non-verbal signals, such as the pitch of the voice or the tension in the body. Children are very aware of the mood of others. If you want to try something new, you can check whether mother or father is relaxed by making brief eye contact. This gives them confirmation that they are on the right track. However, the actual behavior of the parents can be far more problematic than such mostly unconscious signals.

An example, please.

Some parents believe that their child cannot sleep in their own room, even if they are older than a year. That is why it can always lie in the parents' bed. But that makes it all the more afraid of being alone in the dark. Because if it is always with the parents, it does not learn to endure the fear and to test whether it is actually justified, whether a monster is really lurking in the room at night. Only if he practices conquering his fear on his own can he gradually lose it. The parents seem to justify their actions rationally: "Our little one is particularly sensitive, more fearful than other children". In some cases that may be true. But sometimes there is a fear of the parents behind it: in reality it is they who cannot sleep alone. They find it difficult to leave the child in another room, unobserved, out of their control. This fear is justified in small children. But in principle, a child can sleep in their own bed and in another room after the first few weeks, provided the parents can hear it. From six months, a child can undoubtedly sleep alone without any problems.

Many parents fear sudden infant death syndrome. Is the Fear Justified?

Indeed, the possibility exists that an infant may die completely unexpectedly, without adequate explanation. This phenomenon is still poorly understood, but it is also quite rare: In 2014, 119 children out of more than 700,000 newborns in Germany died of sudden infant death syndrome. The greatest risk is in the first year of life, and male babies are more likely to be affected. At least some risk factors are known that parents can minimize, such as smoking near the child, excessive warmth in the bed and lying on the stomach while sleeping.

The risk of a life-threatening illness or accident for children is much lower today than it used to be. Yet many mothers and fathers worry more than their own parents once did. Why is that?

On average, there are far fewer children in a German family today than in earlier times. All of the parents' worries focus on only one or two offspring. But perhaps more importantly, the higher level of safety for children, as paradoxical as it sounds, reinforces the fears.

What do you mean?

The safer our world becomes, the less often we have to take a risk - and the less our confidence that dangers can be overcome. Therefore, the urge to control and avoid any risk increases in many parents. It is not uncommon for mothers and fathers to drive their child to the school gate every morning or monitor their whereabouts via GPS. "If the adults are afraid, so will the offspring"

What are the consequences of such behavior?

If a child hardly has the chance to cope with problems on their own, feels that they are being watched all the time, they will hardly become independent. And that is exactly what happens: Many adolescents nowadays grow up much later than they used to and hardly develop any autonomy. Whether with school-leaving qualifications, choosing a career or looking for an apartment: Young people are increasingly dependent on the support of their parents. In this way, the parents' fear for their child is transformed into the children's fear of the world.

How can parents today best ensure that nothing happens to their children?

The best way for parents to protect their children is to show them how to handle risks well. “Do this, leave that”: Such educational commands may guide the child and save them from danger one or the other time. But what is much more important is what behavior adolescents learn from their parents. If mom and dad don't go through a red light, then most likely a child won't either - even if they are alone.

Prof. Dr. Silvia Schneider heads the department for clinical child and adolescent psychology at the Ruhr University Bochum. The psychologist and therapist researches how fears are transmitted within families.