Monsters Under the Bed: Understanding Kid Fears
Thank you so much for joining us today as we discuss a topic that may be very familiar to some of you out there: understanding your child’s fears. Many of our children’s fears seem mystifying or irrational, but to them the world is full of threats pertaining to the unknown. Most fears fade as children develop, but if your child’s fears persist and totally preoccupy him, he will need your help to overcome them. Now, I am far from being an expert on this issue but I am currently dealing with this situation at home with my child and I am hoping to shed some light on the topic for other parents in my situation.
Two and three year olds are creatures of habit. Any unfamiliar sight or sound, a strange animal getting too close or ear-splitting sirens can send them into a panic. Often, children are afraid of harmless things, such as the vacuum cleaner. The reason: Even though they are aware of their environment, they do not yet understand everything that happens in it. Your child may know that a vacuum cleans up dirt, but is not sure it will not suck him up too! Children’s fears often stem from a scary experience. For example, a child who cried when his birthday balloons popped might become afraid of all balloons.
As parents we often have to become detectives in order to figure out what are child is truly afraid of. If your child cannot or refuses to tell you what is scaring him, look for clues. I remember a time when I could not figure out why my two year old son sometimes panicked when he got dressed until I realized that it happened only when he wore shirts that button. He could not undo buttons yet, so I think he felt trapped in his shirts.
I have put together a few tips that will help your child deal with their fears and eventually overcome them – -real and imaginary:
Try to understand your child’s fear: Young children are still discovering the world that they live in. Their imagination is developing and hence whatever they see/ hear in real life can result in formation of scary mental images. Talk to your child: Talking to your child will definitely make him feel more comfortable. If your child is old enough, let him share his fear with you. Ask him to explain what is it that he is scared of and why? Let him explain how he felt. Show him your concern while he discusses his fear with you. Tell him how you were also scared of several things as a child. This empathy will definitely strengthen your bond with your child as he starts believing that you care and are concerned about his feelings. Give the right message: Don’t send wrong messages to your child by saying things like: “Stop being a Baby”, “Don’t be scared”, “See, your friend is not scared”, etc. This makes the child believe that it is wrong to be scared and he/she will stop sharing his fears with you. Tell your child that it is all right to be afraid. Also, explain that it is OK to share his fear and ask for help. Do not ignore their fear: If your child is scared of a particular relative, caregiver or a neighbor, do not ignore it or force the child to be with them. Instead, speak to your child about it and let him explain what makes that person fearful. Even if you think that the person is unlikely to cause any trouble to the child, ALWAYS give your child some benefit of doubt. Do not force your child to do something that he/ she is scared of: Forcing the child will only worsen their fear. Allow your child to take his/ her own time to adjust and overcome his fears. Support him with all the love and care that you can. Model being brave: Ever heard the saying, “Actions speak louder than words?” If you freak out at something, chances are your child will also react in the same manner. Your child believes if something or someone is safe for you, it is safe for him too. Keep children away from fearful characters: A young child cannot differentiate between reality and fantasy. Children do get scared of the fantasy characters that they watch on TV. Turn off the scary TV shows. Offer to walk with the child through the house/room/area that the child associates fear with. Open all the doors, look under the bed – use light to show that nothing is there. If your child is frightened by sounds or shadowy images, discuss what could actually be causing these sounds in a non-judgmental way. Reward brave behavior: It is not easy facing fears. Using rewards can encourage brave behavior. Children respond to praise and encouragement. For example, you can say: “You did it! You played at your friend’s by yourself.” “You did a great job of introducing yourself to the other kids!” and “I’m proud of you for sleeping in your own room.” When your child is facing strong fears, it may be helpful to use specific rewards as motivation to achieve.
Although, helping your child face their fears may be tough at times it is important to understand that fear is essential for survival. It helps us escape dangerous situations. But if your child’s fears keep him from engaging in everyday activities, it may be time to seek help from other parents you trust or professionals. Some children’s fear systems are much more sensitive than others. Anxious children may be trapped in a whirlwind of fearful thoughts, and paralyzed by nagging “what ifs.” According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 13 percent of children are affected by anxiety disorders, which include phobias, panic disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Talk with your pediatrician or school psychologist if your child’s fears are overwhelming you both.
Later this month be on the lookout for the upcoming parenting class email. We will continue focusing on this issue and providing more helpful information.