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It is really frustrating to see your child being scared and not being able to help him overcome this feeling! In the past months, I felt this several times as my boy has experienced different fears! Because I wanted to be a real support for him in dealing with these feelings, I started to read a lot of articles on how to help children overcome fears. After trying several methods, I discovered some tools that worked very good for us and that I think that could help you too if you are struggling with the same issue.
Here are the 4 powerful tools that I learned and used with my son and that can really make a difference in handling a child’s fear. If you have any additional advice, I would be glad to find it out!
1. Accepting the child’s fear
Even if some fears may seem silly to us, they are real for the child and they are affecting him. Accepting the child’s fear is the first step in helping him deal with it and overcome it. It is very important to never tell a child that he is silly when he is afraid of something or that he shouldn’t feel scared. Messages like “You have nothing to be afraid of” or “It’s so silly of you to be scared of this” make him think that it’s something wrong with him because he feels scared. This will also prevent him from expressing his fears in the future. Also, making fun of the child’s fears will only intensify his anxiety and lower his self-esteem.
What is helpful to do is to reassure the child that the fear is normal and that he can request a parent’s help anytime he feels scared. Sometimes it’s useful if the parent shares some of his childhood fear with the child. This could make him feel more comfortable to share his own feelings.
Acceptance and love are the most effective tools in helping a child overcome his fears.
Hugging the child every time he feels scared is a great way to make him feel safe! A gentle hug can relieve the stress and help him overcome the fear more easily.
2. Talking about the fear
Talking about feelings has an incredible healing power. Sometimes only being able to name the fear and to discuss it can really help the child feel less stressed about it.
Here are 3 helpful tools to use in the discussions for helping the child deal with the fear:
– Asking questions about the fear to understand better what is causing it
Sometimes the reason behind the fear can be something we wouldn’t expect.
For example, Bogdan had a period when he was afraid of dogs, but only of the small ones. If he saw a big rottweiler he was willing to play with him, but if he saw a small dog he was very scared and wanted to run away. It was hard for me to understand his behavior. After several talks, I finally found out that small dogs scared him because they are very unpredictable in their movement. The truth is that big dogs tend to be calmer in their movements, while the small ones are usually more agitated. Understanding his reason was a huge help! I looked for a book about dog breeds and we discussed the difference between them. Now, when he sees small dogs, he tells me about what we read in the book and it’s not scared anymore.
In other cases, the child’s fear can be caused by something he heard in grown-up’s discussions or he saw in a TV program. Finding the reason behind the fear is always a great starting point for helping the child deal with it.
– Inviting the child to name the fear and to say how it feels
Especially for young kids, naming the fear can be difficult at first. Reading a children book about fears can be a good start for the discussion. A useful method is to ask the child where does he feel the fear in his body (in his tummy, in his feet, etc). This will allow him to be more aware of his feelings and it will help him open up about the fear.
– Drawing the fear
Young kids may have a difficult time to put their feelings into words. In this case, drawing can be a much easier way to express! Asking the child to draw the fear is a wonderful exercise for dealing with it. At the end, asking him to talk about his drawing is a great way to find out more details about what he feels.
3. Using play to heal fear
Play has an amazing power on kids! It can help a lot with coping with fear, especially through pretend play. Creating a story about a doll or a teddy is scared and manages to overcome the fear is a very helpful tool to use. For example, the fear of the doctor can be eased if you use pretend play and you create a hospital for the dolls. Letting the child be the doctor gives him a sense of control over the situation.
Projecting the fear on a toy can help the child open up about his feelings and make him more able to express them.
Here is an example on how you can use this: Let’s say that the child is afraid of bugs. You can take a teddy and say to the child: “Look, Teddy just saw a bug and he is very scared! How to you think he is feeling?” (The child will be able to say how fear affects him more openly if he refers to it as being the teddy’s fear.) After the child answer, you can say to Teddy: “Oh, it’s ok to be scared! But we are here with you to make you feel better. Let me tell you some things about bugs.” (You can use this opportunity to talk about what triggers the fear and offer some information to help the child feel safer. For example, that bugs cannot hurt us.)
After that, you can ask your child: “What do you think that Teddy could do to banish the fear?” (The child could come up with some really interesting solutions! Allowing the child express his opinion gives you a great input about what would help him when he is afraid. If the child has no idea what to say, you can propose some solutions yourself and ask for the child’s opinion.)
Repeating this game regularly will make the child feel more secure and more ready to face the fear. In time, he will be able to tell the teddy about bugs on his own and come up with his own ideas for dealing the fear more easily. The best thing is that you can adapt the play to a lot of different fears, so you’ll have this tool on hand every time you need it.
4. Giving the child the skills he needs for dealing with the fear
Fear is an irrational feeling, but giving rational explanations about the things that scare the child could really diminish the fear. It may seem strange to find out that taking a bath scares the child because he thinks he could get sucked down the drain, but it’s important to acknowledge that kids see things a lot different that we do. Giving the child information about the things that scare him means enabling him to fight the fear more easily.
Here are some tools you could use:
– reading children books about the child’s fear (e.g. books about a character that learns to use the potty if the child is scared of it)
– watching a documentary about the topic that worries the child (e.g. a documentary about dogs if he is afraid of them)
– reading books about the things that scare him (e.g. reading a book about different species of bugs if he is scared of them).
It’s very helpful to ask the child what would help him feel less scared. You can even write down some solutions you find together. Sharing the way you coped with fear in your childhood could also be useful. Asking the child to find solutions and supporting him with this will make him feel more capable of dealing with difficulties in life. It will also teach him some good problem-solving skills.
Helpful resources for dealing with particular fears
Besides these general tools for helping a child deal with fear, there are also some more particular ones focusing on specific fears. I gathered here a list of articles with useful ideas about overcoming specific fears.
Helping Children Overcome Fears – a great material about children fears; on pages 4-5 you will find a list of the most common fears at different ages and some ideas about how to cope with them
On the AHA Parenting site, you can also find some great articles about fears:
Your Preschooler and Bedtime (helping with bedtime fears)
I hope that this information will be helpful for you! Sometimes it’s really hard to deal with kids’ fears and it’s very important to know how to help them so that they will feel safe and confident again! If you have any other ideas that work for your children, I would be glad to find them out!