Dealing With Your Child’s Fears

by Sarah Lyons

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 movie scene scary. However, kids can develop fears that interrupt their everyday life 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.

Give Permission
Parents can let kids know that it is perfectly normal and acceptable to be scared. When you give a child permission to feel afraid, they can begin to acknowledge what is frightening them and face it head on. Parents can give tips on how to deal with different situations and work through the situation together. Lauren Heller, 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.”

Be Honest
If there is a scary situation coming up, it is best to be as honest as possible with your child so they know 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, 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.

Problem Solve
Try to pinpoint exactly what your child is afraid of and discuss ways that it can be handled. For example, Jane Hammond’s nine-year-old daughter was afraid of falling during an ice skating competition, they discussed what would be the result of her fall—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. 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 they can use to overcome their 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 child the tools they need to face their fears, while also reassuring them that you are always there to help, allows them to try to handle their fear on their own—knowing that you have their 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 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 Bravery
As you see your child 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 your child to keep trying to confront the things that cause them fear and anxiety. A parent’s praise can really build a child’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, 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.” It is normal to have fears and it is appropriate to explain this to your child. As scary situations arise, encourage your children to share their feelings with you so that 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

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