Many people suffer from fear, intense phobias, and anxiety. Unfortunately, these traits are also present in the most innocent among us – children. Children are even more susceptible to fears than adults are.
Additionally, children experience their fears more intensely than adults do. Although fears vary depending on the age of the child and the stage of development that he or she may be in, a child will almost always have at least one thing that they intensely fear. Luckily, there are a few things you can do as a parent to help your child overcome these fears.
Some common fears found in children are abandonment, loud noises, darkness, strangers, masks, animals, creepy crawlers, natural disasters, pain or injury, dentists or doctors, going to school, rejection, or punishment.
These things can cause anything from discomfort to severe phobia. If you feel like your child might suffer from a crippling, anxiety-ridden phobia, you might want to seek help from a professional therapist.
A therapist can help you and your child understand the cause of the phobia and the anxiety and then assist you in working toward treating it. There are a few things that you can do without the help of a therapist and on your own as a loving parent to help your child overcome fears.
Your child molds their own behavior off of how you as a parent act. Show your child that you are a confident, responsible adult. If it is obvious to your child that you fear strange people or spiders, your child will notice these fears and also assume that these things are meant to be feared.
Try to keep an air of confidence, even when you have to face your own fears. Your child will take comfort in your authority and will follow your example when faced with similar problems or situations.
You can help your child by trying to associate positive memories with their fears instead of negative ones. Turn potentially frightening situations into playful ones instead. Rather than tensing up when you see a jogger with a large dog approaching, talk to your child about how fast the dog can run or how pretty the dog’s leash is.
Make these threatening situations into non-threatening learning or bonding experiences. Make a game out of killing a spider, visiting the dentist, or turning off the lights at night. These are sure ways to help quell your child’s fears of actually non-threatening situations.
Another way to help your child overcome fears is to use a technique which involves gradual desensitization. Figure out what it is that your child is afraid of. Once that is established, open up a line of communication about this fear.
Try to understand why your child fears this object or this activity. Sometimes it could be something as simple as a negative association (fear of brushing their teeth because they once burned their hand on a curling iron while brushing).
Gradually and very gently expose your child to this fear. Make sure that you start out very gently and reaffirm to your child all along the way that you will not leave them alone. Allow them to face the fear long enough to see that no harm will come to them from it. Again, it is extremely important to emphasize to your child that you are supporting them and that the danger is not all that real.
Children often experience fears when they have no control over a situation or they don’t understand what is going on. One of the best ways to really help your child, even if they do not end up overcoming the fear, is keeping an open line of communication. Never criticize or tease your child for their fears. Instead, work with them to understand their fears better and help them understand what they are afraid of and why. Doing these things will not only help your child to grow and develop, they will also help you to strengthen your relationship with each other.
Melanie Hargrave is a wife and homemaker whose pride and joy is her family.