Children are born with different temperaments and personalities. Some of them are timid, shy and fearful, others are carefree and brave. Generally, children move through different types of fears as they grow. They may have fear of strangers, fear of the dark, fear of heights, snakes and spiders, fear of being home alone, TV shows, fear of injury, illness, doctors ,fear of failure etc. It is normal for children to avoid the things they fear. However, regular avoidance will prevent them from learning that feared situations, things or places may not necessarily be dangerous. Moreover, too much fear is not a positive sign for the growth of your child.
So, it is important for parents to provide exposure to their child so that whenever the child goes into a feared situation, he manages to face it confidently. You can help your child overcome her small fears first, before you take on the big ones. For instance, if your child is afraid of water & has fear of swimming, then explain her that swimming is one of the best physical activities that will keep her fit & active. Further, enroll her in swimming classes where she can first practice putting her feet & legs in water, then the whole body and slowly & gradually start learning swimming.
So, you can help your child develop the skills and confidence to overcome fears so that the fear does not evolve into a phobia. To help your child deal with fears and anxieties, follow the tips given below:
Recognize your child’s fear – Recognize your child’s fears and identify the triggering events & situations that make her feel scary. Your child may be scared of little things that seem trivial to you but never ignore her fear as your child is anxious & afraid of those fears. Further, never say things like “stop being a baby”, “don’t be scared”, “see your friend is not scared”, etc. as this will make your child believe that it is wrong to be scared and she will stop sharing her fears with you. Instead, tell your child that it is all right to be afraid. Also, explain her that she should always share her fears with you and ask for help.
Make your child feel comfortable – Make your home a place where your child feels comfortable talking about her fears and worries. Reassure her in a positive way that you will help, guide & support her to overcome her fears. Talk to your child about her fears and let her share her worries & concerns with you. Ask her to explain what she is scared of and why? Further, be responsive to your child’s feelings & show her your concern while she discusses her fear with you. Also, tell her how you were also scared of several things as a child. This empathy will definitely strengthen your bond with your child as she will start believing that you care and are concerned about her feelings.
Do not make fun of your child’s fears – Accept your child’s fears as valid and support her any time she is frightened. Also, never make fun of your child’s fear as this will not make her less fearful; instead, it will increase her anxiety and at the same time lower her self-esteem which can lead to more intense problems like developing phobias. Remember, your child can overcome her fear only with your love and care.
Do not force your child to do something that she is scared of – Allow your child to take her own time to adjust and overcome her fears and never force her to do something that she is scared of. Also, avoid forcing your child into fearful situations all at once. For instance, don’t force her to hold a bug in her hand or to sleep in the dark which scares her. Also, if your child does not like dogs, do not cross the street deliberately as this will just reinforce that dogs should be feared and avoided. Instead provide support and gentle care as you approach the feared object or situation with your child.
Keep children away from fearful characters – Your child may not be able to differentiate between reality and fantasy and may get scared of the fantasy characters that she watches on TV. So, monitor your child’s TV viewing, turn off the scary TV shows and opt for shows that match your family’s values.
Teach coping strategies to your child – Show your child how to handle feelings of fear by counting backwards from 10 to 1, saying a prayer, singing a song or using their imagination to turn something scary into something funny. Further, make her learn some positive self-statements like “I can do this” and “I will be ok”. Also, help your child learn about the things that scare her. Read books about fire trucks and talk about why they have sirens, talk about thunderstorms and lightning. Tell her that if TV scares her, then she should not watch scary TV shows or if she is scared of the dark, maybe sleeping with her teddy bear will help.
You may also opt for following coping techniques to help your child overcome her fears:
- Draw the fear – If your child is scared of dogs, together with your child, draw dogs and let her touch the drawing. Ask her if anything happened when she touched them. Then ask her to touch the pictures again.
- Ask your child to write out her fears in a diary – Ask your child to write fearful thoughts or make a list of situations, places or objects that she fears and together with your child. After writing out her fears have her answer several questions:
- What can I learn from this fear?
- What can I change that will help me feel safer?
- What are the five blessings in my life?
- Teach your child to meditate – Find a quiet place for your child and ask her to sit on a chair comfortably. Further, ask her to close her eyes and take a deep breath in through her nose, have her hold the breath for several seconds and exhale through her mouth. Repeat this 3 times. Also, teach her to do this type of breathing whenever she is having a fearful moment.
- Slowly introduce whatever she is afraid of – If your child is afraid of dogs, first read several picture books on puppies, then walk by a pet store window, then walk into the pet store and look at the puppies in cages. Then have your child watch you hold and pet a puppy. Finally, ask your child to pet the puppy when you are holding it. However, remain very patient and keep praising all of your child’s efforts to overcome her fear.
- Read inspiring books to your child – Whenever your child experience some fearful thoughts, read some books of poetry, spirituality and stories of how others have overcome fear.
Seek Professional Help – Consult a therapist to help your child let go of her fear. You may also attend parent guidance sessions which will help you to manage your child’s symptoms, identify effective parenting skills and learn how to handle your child when she feels scared.
In the end, remember that your child may become fearful at different ages, about different things and with different intensities. Therefore, there is no one best way to overcome fears; it has to be customized according to your child’s developmental stage and her ability to handle stress. Overall, have fun with your child, spend quality time and build your child’s self-confidence and self-esteem so that she can overcome her fears and be proud of her successes.