Helping children overcome fears not only eases their anxieties, it also provides an opportunity to build the parent-child relationship. As you and your child work through fears together, he learns to regard you as a valuable source of support.
- Understand why children are afraid
Children do not think like adults. Most of the world is unknown to the child; and children, like adults, fear the unknown. The preschool child cannot reason through each new experience and decide what’s okay and what’s threatening. Two-to-four-year-old children are able to recreate people, animals, and things, which they are exposed to in real life mentally, and these mental images may be scarier than the real thing. Fears vary from child to child. One child’s fear is another’s fascination. Some children love to play with the vacuum cleaner. Other kids regard it as a noisy monster that eats things. The school-age child becomes more afraid of changes in relationships, danger, and health issues (e.g., being hit by a car, not being able to breathe, divorce of parents or death). Children become fearful at different ages, at different intensities, and about different things. Fear is one of the earliest emotions, and with a little help from caregivers, the child can turn this unpleasant feeling into an opportunity for emotional growth. Learning to deal with fears is one of the child’s earliest lessons in dealing with emotions and using outside help. Understand and support your child during these times, and the closeness between you will grow.
- Model being unfearful
Helping your child handle fears is much easier if you are closely connected with your child. Your child regards you as a test pilot. If something or someone is safe for you, then it is safe for the child. Stranger anxiety is common between one and two years. Help your child overcome this fear by mirroring to the child that this new person is okay.
- Always take your child’s fear of caregivers seriously
Normally, familiarity lessens fear. If your child’s fear at being left with a particular caregiver, even a relative, is getting more intense, change caregivers. Even if foul play seems unlikely, give your child the benefit of the doubt.
- Ease bedtime fears
Nighttime is scary time for little people. Fear of the dark and of separation from parents is adouble fear that keeps many children awake. Put on a night-light. Parent your child off to sleep with a soothing story, massage, or song
- Chase “monsters” out of bedrooms
As your child grows older, the problem with joining in on fictitious fears is that you reinforce the idea that monsters really do exist. Tell your child matter-of-factly: “Monsters are only on drawings or TV. They aren’t real” Once our kids are secure enough at night to graduate from our bedroom, they are past the age of being tricked by their imagination.
- Get rid of fearful characters
Fear of fantasy characters is one of the most common fears in the preschool child. Banish scary characters from your child’s environment. Turn off scary TV shows and videos. Even better, limit TV and videos for preschoolers to very selective viewing. Beware of films and cartoons that were created for older children and adults. Talk about how cartoons and movies are made.