Do you have a child who’s scared of the dark? Has an irrational fear of water? Totally loses it when a dog comes within ten meters? Believes there are boogey monsters under the bed? Screams at the sight of a bug on the floor? Fear is very common with children (and pretty much everyone else). Your child might be scared when an unfamiliar situation, an active imagination, or revisiting a previous bad experience rocks their fragile sense of safety.
Damage is also done by the harshness, threats, and violence commonly found in movies, cartoons, and fairy tales. It is very important to diffuse these fears early enough. Here’s how to help your kids overcome fear.
- Listen to your child
By listening to your child, you see the world through their eyes. Young children are still discovering the world that they live in. Their imagination is developing and hence whatever they see/ hear in life can result in the formation of scary mental images. You may consider their fears irrational but the child obviously doesn’t. Do not ignore your child’s fears or make fun of them. Listen to your child and understand exactly where their fears originated from. Sometimes, that might be all the child needs. Rather than shutting the child up or asking them not to speak about their fears, listen to them speak (or babble) about what exactly they are afraid of.
How to Help Your Child Overcome Fear
- Talk with your child
Notice how listening to your child comes before talking with them? It is important to understand exactly what your child’s fear is by giving them a chance to explain themselves before you try talking to them about it. Don’t send wrong messages to your child by saying things like: “Stop being a baby”, “Don’t be scared”, “See, your friend is not scared”, etc. This makes the child believe that it is wrong to be scared and they will stop sharing their fears with you. Tell your child that it’s all right to be afraid. Also, explain to him that it is okay to share his fear and to ask for help. By talking to them you should help them feel safe. You can tell them “I’m right here and I won’t go away. Everything’s OK.” or, “I see how hard this is, and I’m watching you every minute. I’m keeping you safe.” This will help reassure them and encourage them to overcome the fear. You also don’t want to overindulge the fear, which may work to validate it into something more concrete. Instead, talk them through the emotion they’re feeling in a calm and comforting manner. Learn to also praise their efforts to help them build confidence as they overcome their fears bit by bit. You can also encourage your kids to ask you questions about their fears.
- Focus on fun
Playful approaches can go a long way toward reducing anxieties. If your child is afraid of the dark, read bedtime stories by flashlight, or buy glow-in-the-dark toys and devise a scavenger hunt. If she’s worried about a monster under her bed, ask her or him to draw the creature making a silly face or wearing silly clothes. You can also play on your child’s empathy for it. This will humanize the image of the monster and make him more likeable and less scary. Children’s fears will release as they laugh and have fun.
- Do not push your child to do something they are scared of
You need to be careful when asking your kids to confront their fears. Forcing the child is likely to worsen his or her fear. Instead, help your child get used to a scary situation in increments. You can help your child conquer their fear by gentle exposure to that fear, which gradually increases with time and practice. You can do this in consultation with your child. Allow your child to take his or her own time to adjust and overcome the fears while supporting your child with all the love and care that you can.
- Allow your kids to take control
Having your kids take control of not-so-frightening situations can help boost their confidence even in frightening situations. Allow them to make certain decisions themselves or take the lead when you play. You can pretend to be defeated when you play with them. Giving your child an element of control in the management of their fear will also go a long way towards making them feel safe. For example, If they are afraid of intruders in the night, make shutting and locking their bedroom window one of their night-time responsibilities.
After all said and done, your children’s response to fear will depend largely on you. Children very often model what they see their parents and other adults do. So put on a brave face and walk your children through their fears and watch as they overcome them.