6 Tips for Dealing with Childhood Fears and Phobias
Every child has experienced the emotion of fear at one point or another. This fear is felt in various degrees. Some children may seem fearless, while others may be frightened by their own shadow. Whatever the case though, it is your responsibility as the parent to ensure that your little one feels safe and secure despite the fears they have.
Fear is not necessarily just a bad emotion it also keeps your child out of harm’s way. Fear will keep your little one from running into a busy street and accepting rides and sweet treats from strangers. Teaching your child to fear the consequences of bad decisions ensures that they are cautious about compromising their safety. This kind of fear is different from the fear that your child feels as a result of imagined rather than a real threat.
Fear and anxiety that is as a result of imagined danger can become irrational and affect the child’s quality of life. Such a fear that interferes on your child’s ability to function normally is referred to as a phobia.
The most common fears and phobias children and others in general experience include:
- Police officers
- Taking tests
- Thunder and lightning
Any fear your child may be experiencing, if treated wrongly could progress into serious phobias later in his or her life. Here are some of the ways you could deal with childhood fears.
- Validate your Child’s Emotions
You should neither belittle your child’s feeling nor overreact to the fear. If you run to your little one’s rescue every time they feel scared, you may inadvertently be saying that whatever is making them scared is in fact scary. Doing this will also be telling your child that they are only safe when they are in your arms and not anywhere else.
Instead, empathetically talk to your little one about what you see, “The dog scared you when it started barking, right? You are right that some dogs are scary but some are very friendly.” If for example, your child is afraid of dogs, you could say, “I know dogs really scare you, but the one next door just wants to be your friend.” Validate your child’s response with positive reinforcement.
- Help Identify your Child’s Fear
You may find that your child is generally scared of the world around them. This is normal for your child to be scared, some children experience over stimulation and may have a medical condition. Help identify your child’s fears if they are having trouble communicating.
What may seem like a fear of the dark, could be something else. The more open you are about communication, the better relationship you can have with your child to understand their fears.
- Do not Cater to your Child’s Fears
If for instance, your child is afraid of dogs, do not intentionally cross the road or change a route home once you spot one around the corner. Instead, provide your child with the encouragement, support, and care he needs as you approach the object, animal or situation they fear.
Instead, teach your little one how to behave appropriately in a fearful situation. For example, if they are afraid of dogs, tell him or her to always approach a dog from the front and pat it gently. Do not force a situation. If your child does not want to work through a situation, try again next time. They will come around eventually with time.
- Think Creatively on How to Calm Your Child
Sometimes helping your child face their fears will take a lot of creativity on your part. If you have a child under the age of one, you may find that they are scared of being away from you in general. If your baby has attachment issues you could try to take your baby out on a car drive. It’s a great way for them to put their mind at ease knowing they are going for a car ride with you and that they can relax while you go on an adventure.
The white noise from the car and the environment around your child may take their mind off of what they are scared of and can be a way for them to escape a scary situation. For more information about which car seats are best for your family read this guide.
You can also try doing other activities that will help keep their mind off of a their fears and phobias such as watching a movie together or choosing a different activity like coloring or playing outside. Whatever you choose to do, make sure you are doing things that will help your child calm down.
- Encourage your Little One to Face their Fears
Overcoming fear can take more time than you think. Therefore, be sure not to force your child to be brave and confront his fears without it being on their own terms. Instead, encourage a discussion where you explain that many children like them experience similar emotions and with your help they will overcome it.
If your little one is fearful of the dark you could consider using a flashlight once the lights are switched off. But, be sure the place on which the flashlight is placed will not create shadows that could as well scare your child. Also, you could consider switching off the lights after your bedtime routine, then stay a while longer in the room. During this time, you could discuss how things appear in the dark. For example, talk about how the blowing breeze sounds louder at night than during the day.
- Try Exposure Therapy
Exposure therapy involves talking your child through an upcoming situation or event that causes him or her to become anxious or fearful. For example, if your child is fearful of doctors, hospitals or needles, you could talk to him or her ahead of the visit and demonstrate what he or she should expect.
Try to communicate about what your child is fearful of before they go through a fearful experience. Another example of exposure therapy is if they are scared of the dark and you are planning to go to a movie. You may need to explain that the lights will be going off to see the screen better.
No matter what your child is going through try to be supportive in the best way possible for your child. Avoid any situations that will cause trauma for them in the future and always try to encourage communication skills.