When a child is fearful or anxious it affects the whole family; therefore, it is has to be dealt with carefully and in a timely manner. Fears are a normal part of growing up. A healthy amount of fear is what will keep your child safe and alert to the dangers that he confronts each day. Children must learn we all have fears and that we have to learn to handle fear so that it does not control us. Parents must not belittle their child’s fears but must provide the support and life skills to cope with them.
Fears during childhood are often overwhelming for the child and the way parents cope with it will be remembered by this child for years to come. Remember, the confidence this scared child places in your hands and the way you handle it, will influence the relationship you have with him solving his tween and teen year problems. You must try to get it right.
Tips how to help a fearful child:
- Acknowledge his fear no matter how implausible it seems.
- Discuss the fear, listen carefully and look for between-the-line reasons for his fears.
- Attempt to make the child feel more secure by doing something concrete about the problem like showing how the doors and windows lock, leaving a night light, going over the steps you or he would take in an emergency…
- Give the child something tangible to appease his fears like a flashlight for his room, your photo and emergency contact numbers for his school bag, practice using the phone so he feels if something happens to you he can reach out for help…
- Never make fun of his fear or discuss it with others in front of him, take it seriously and be comforting and reassuring.
- Do not make a mountain out of a mole hill… a middle ground of caring care is best.
- Share picture books of other children’s fears and how they conquer them.
- Take time during the shared readings to prompt him to reveal his fear triggers.
- Encourage him to draw about his fear if he cannot express himself well enough.
- Make sure your child eats, sleeps and gets plenty of physical exercise because a healthy, rested child can cope much better.
Why is my child so fearful, so anxious?
Sometimes a child’s fear is brought on by something he heard at school, from friends or even an adult conversation. It could stem from hearing the news on radio or television. Monitor the content of the television programs or movies he sees. Arrange to have alone time with your anxious child to open the lines of communication and hopefully get to the real reason for his fear.
Search for a double meaning in his fears. Fear of the dark could mean he is afraid burglars will come to the house like he saw on television. Monitor what triggers the scary thoughts. Does anger, loneliness, leaving the house, or any other feeling accompany the fear.
Be sure the fear that he has is not masking a bigger problem. It could be problems at home, at school, at the playground or in the school bus that are the underlying cause of his fears and his insecurity.
Being embarrassed about how he feels might be another problem. Gain his confidence by revealing some of your fears and how you cope with it. Your child might be worried each day that his friends will learn he is fearful and tease him of being a scaredy-cat.
Strategies to empower your child to be less fearful:
- Show him how to rate the severity of his fear on a 10-point scale.
- Teach your child calming techniques like holding on to a favourite fidget like KidCompanions Chewelry, listening to music, doing yoga or other exercises, phoning grandma…
- Explain away the fear by learning about the topic of his fear… like the child who is afraid of spiders and learns about them only to become their staunch protector.
- Teach how to have a ‘Plan B’ if situations become scary. Take a big sister along at the last minute if the invitation to a birthday party is upsetting. Know that you can phone to be picked up before a noisy, overwhelming party is over.
- Encourage friendships with kids his own age. Having a best buddy with whom to confide and talk things out will probably show him other kids have fears too.
Once parents have given a good try to find a solution to their child’s fearfulness, if it is still disrupting the child’s well-being, they should seek professional help. Learning how to deal with fear in childhood can save many sleepless nights and troubling days for the whole family.
Helpful Book and Interview:
- Book Review of Sam Feels Better Now! An Interactive Story for Children by professional counselor and child therapist Jill Osborne
- Interview with Jill Osborne, Professional Counselor, Child Therapist and Author