Dealing with a Child’s Fears
As a child, I assumed my parents weren’t afraid of anything. I would call on their help when I felt scared or nervous, and they were always there to check under the bed for monsters and assure me that all was safe.
One day I found a wasp flying around in my room and I called my dad to help. When he saw what the problem was, he ran back out of the room in terror. My dad is terrified of wasps. In that moment, I realized that adults have fears too.
It’s normal for children to have fears. Kids may have bad dreams, be frightened of the dark or find a certain movie scenes scary. However, kids can develop fears that interrupt their everyday lives, such as a fear of speaking in front of others, fear of being dropped off at school or fear of trying new things. Here are some tips to help kids face their fears.
Parents can let kids know that being scared is perfectly normal and acceptable. When you give a child permission to feel afraid, he can begin to acknowledge what is frightening him and face it head on. Parents can give tips on how to deal with different situations and work through the situation together. Lauren Heller, Overland Park mother of twins, says, “For my preschoolers, we spend time talking about the event starting a few days before. I try to help them know what to expect and allow them to ask questions.”
If there is a scary situation coming up, the best approach is being as honest as possible with your child so she knows what to expect. “I try my best to prepare my kids in advance for scary situations. If there is a medical procedure coming up, I tell them what is going to happen. I never say it won’t hurt if it really will,” says Fia Swartwood, Olathe mom of two. “My honesty has helped my kids through lots of situations.” In the short term, half-truths or sugar coating might help your child prior to a scary situation, but in reality, the trust that is built through honesty helps kids in the long term.
Try to pinpoint exactly the source of your child’s fear and discuss ways she can handle it. For example, when Jane Hammond’s 9-year-old daughter was afraid of falling during an ice skating competition, they discussed what would be the strategy if she fell: Just get back up, no big deal. “She did fall once in a competition, then got back up and finished. She was glad for the experience!” says Hammond, mom of three from Linwood, KS. Other problems have easy solutions that kids can’t always think of on their own. For instance, if your child is afraid of the dark, using a night light may help solve the problem.
Teach coping skills
Each time your child is afraid, give a wide variety of options he can use to overcome his fears. A child may be able to calm down by singing a song, hugging a stuffed animal, telling a joke or declaring that monsters aren’t real. Giving your youngster the tools he needs to face his fears, while also reassuring him you are always there to help him, allows him to try handling his fear on his own, knowing you have his back if it doesn’t work out. Stephanie Loux, mom of three, says, “I also keep the wins in my back pocket to remind them of past successes. It encourages them to try new things because they remember how well it worked out in the past.” This technique works great for scary situations, such as trying a roller coaster, speaking in front of a crowd or trying a new extracurricular activity.
Reward for bravery
As you see your children overcome fears—or at least make efforts to face the things that scare them—reward them for their bravery. Giving positive feedback and acknowledging their efforts will encourage kids to keep trying to confront the things that cause them fear and anxiety. A parent’s praise can really build children’s confidence so they are prepared to face a variety of challenges.
As you work these steps with your child, continue to be patient and supportive. “When our kids are scared, we let them know Mommy and Daddy are bigger and tougher than anything scary. And we will always protect them,” says Amy Cameron, Olathe mother of three. “We have defeated monsters in the dark by reassuring them that, as parents, we make the rules and there are no monsters allowed in our house.” Having fears is normal, and explaining this to your child is appropriate. As scary situations arise, encourage your children to share their feelings with you so you can deal with them together.
Books to Help Kids Face Their Fears
- Scaredies Away! A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Worry and Anxiety (Made Simple) by Stacy Fiorile
- Chicken Lily by Lori Mortensen
- Bear Feels Scared by Karma Wilson
- There’s an Alligator Under My Bed by Mercer Mayer
- First Day Jitters by Julie Danneburg
- The Monster at the End of this Book by Jon Stone
- The Invisible String by Patrice Karst
- The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything by Linda D. Williams
- Curious George Goes to the Hospital by H. A. Rey
- The Lion Inside by Rachel Bright
Mom of six Sarah Lyons lives in Olathe with her family.