How to Help a Child Overcome Fear

Childhood fears are a normal part of early develop­ment. Almost 90 percent of young children experience a mild fear at some point. These fears may be real, such as a fear of lightning, or they may be imaginary, such as a fear of ghosts.

Children can develop fears about the strangest of things, even though there doesn’t appear to be any obvious explanation. Childhood fears—just like adult fears—do not have to be ratio­nal. Many adults are afraid of the dentist, even though modern dentistry techniques ensure virtually pain-free treatment. Few adults can logically explain what it is about a visit to a dentist that frightens them so much. Similarly, few children can explain what quality of darkness makes them feel uneasy.

Fears usually emerge around the age of two years. A child of this age has a greater understanding and awareness of the world around him. However, his understanding is not so great that he can fully explain everything that happens. A toddler knows that birds fly because he sees it happening quite regularly, but he does not know that a bird will not pick him up and fly off with him, or that a bird will not eat him. Therefore, he may be afraid. If your child is worried by something that is apparently irra­tional, he needs your reassurance and explanation.

Parents can arouse fears in young children by talking care­lessly in front of them. Of course, your child must be made aware of the routine hazards of domestic life. Hot stoves can cause burns, people can fall down stairs, burglars can break into a house, and children can drown in a few inches of bathwater. These very real dangers have to be kept in perspective.

Continual reminders of what could happen may make your child afraid rather than cautious, and that is not the aim of safety warnings. Sometimes fears are used as a threat to a child, as a way to make him mind. Parents are often tempted to resort to this strategy when all else fails. Dad takes his four-year-old son to a children’s party, but when they arrive the child will not let go of dad’s hand. He pleads with his father to stay a few moments longer, and in a fit of embarrassed rage—because somehow every other child is settled—Dad warns: “If you don’t shut up, I’m going to leave you right now.” This only increases the child’s anxiety. Threats of this nature, which play on a young child’s weakness, are only likely to make the child’s fears worse.

Always take your child’s fear seriously, no matter how ridiculous it may appear. What may seem a minor obstacle to you, may seem like Mount Everest through your child’s eyes. Never try to bully your child out of his fear. Comments such as, “Act your age” or, “You’re behaving like a little baby” will only increase the child’s agitation. Take a planned approach to help your child.

First, ascertain exactly what your child fears. A child who becomes anxious when he approaches the bathroom may be apprehensive about any one of a number of things. Is he afraid he will fall into the toilet bowl? Is he afraid of the smell? Is he afraid that he cannot reach the taps to wash his hands after­wards? Is he afraid of the flush? Ask your child what frightens him. You may not get a direct answer, but by breaking down the frightening event into small components, you should be able to establish the precise area of concern.

Second, show your child that he can manage, that he doesn’t really have any cause to be afraid. For instance, your child may be afraid of thunder because he thinks it will make the house fall down. You can reassure him that the house cannot be damaged by noise; demonstrate this by turning your television, radio, and stereo system on full volume for a few seconds. Once your child sees that the house is still standing, even though that was louder than any noise thunder might make, he will probably be less afraid.

Third, give your child lots of encouragement when he takes a step toward overcoming whatever it is that scares him. Constant praise from you, coupled with your frequent reassur­ance that he is safe, is a very effective way to boost your child’s self-confidence. Some storybooks are written specially to help children overcome fears. You may find that reading some of these books to your child is an effective way to help him tackle his fears.

Filed Under: Lifestyle & Personality


About the Author: Alan Kennon lives a very happy life with two kids and a lovely wife. He likes to share his life time experiences with others about how they can improve their lifestyle and personality.

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