Whether it was thunderstorms, monsters under the bed, or a certain type of bug, we can all remember childhood fears we had. If your child is afraid of something not normally considered dangerous, you can help them manage their fears. According to the Child Mind Institute, teaching your child coping strategies will build confidence and independence, and will help them to feel less afraid. Here are some tips for managing childhood fears.
Identifying the fear
Depending on your child’s age, it may be more difficult to pinpoint their fear. You may need to look for non-verbal cues that your child is afraid, such as crying, tantrums, jitters, racing heartbeat, dizziness, or sweating. These reactions will often persist despite reassurance from you that there is nothing to be afraid of. They can also disrupt their everyday routine – for example, a child who’s afraid of the dark may have trouble sleeping.
When discussing your child’s fear, encourage them to be honest, and listen without judgement. Knowing that they can talk to you about their fear can go a long way in feeling secure enough to cope with it.
Validate their feelings
While you don’t want to tell your child they’re right to be afraid of thunder or bugs, it’s important that they know their feelings are important. Many childhood fears can seem almost amusing to adults. However, for a child, it’s very real. You can say something like, “I can see how that’s scary for you,” or “I was afraid of the dark too when I was your age.” However, avoid over-comforting your child, as this can reinforce their fear.
You can help understand your child’s fear by asking specific questions. For example, “Does the monster in your closet go away if a light is turned on?” or “What makes going to the dentist scary?” Understanding your child’s fear can help you figure out how to cope with it.
Help your child practice coping strategies
Once you and your child understand the fear, you can help them cope with it and practice conquering it. Take small steps. For example, if your child is afraid of taking a bath, one day they can sit in a small amount of water, and the next time a little more. Or they can practice getting used to the water by having you pour a little bit on their hands and then on their back.
You can also help your child role-play situations that make them fearful. For example, talking to other children at school. This is a low-stakes way for you and your child to figure out what they can do to cope, and practicing those things can increase their confidence.
Above all, when helping your child manage their fears, be patient and understanding, and offer lots of praise for their efforts.