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Helping Your Child With Their Fears

It may not be “lions and tigers and bears,” but even happy and secure kids have fears or anxiety at different stages and ages of childhood.

Some amount of fear is normal and needed. Fear can protect us from danger and keep us safe.

Parents can help their children learn how to respond to and cope with fear and anxiety. There are preventive steps you can take to help your child be less fearful and anxious, as well as things you can do “in the moment” when they are feeling fearful.

Attention and love

  • Hugs, singing, reading, and telling stories are great ways to establish strong bonds and open communication that will help when fears do come up and helps lessen anxiety in general.

Communicate

  • Don’t assume you know what your child is afraid of. Ask questions!
  • You may think your child is afraid of their house burning down, but instead they are afraid the wildfire smoke will make them sick.
  • Younger children may not be able to verbalize their fears. Have them point to a picture or look for non-verbal ways to discover the specifics, like facial expressions or clenched fists. Putting words to feelings is the first step in learning to cope with them.
  • Explain what is real and what is imaginary. Children at different ages understand this to different extents.
  • Point out what is pretend vs. real during pretend play. It can help prepare children to understand that “monsters under the bed” are pretend too.
  • “We had fun being pretend fire fighters. Tomorrow let’s walk past the fire station to say hello to the real fire fighters.”

Explain “how things work.”

  • Afraid of wildfires? Give your child age appropriate facts about what causes wildfires and how they can be prevented.
  • Find books or online information about the weather to read together.
  • Limit exposure to images contained in news reports on social media and t.v.
  • If it is about fear, rather than real danger, reassure them that they are not in danger and that you are there to help and protect them.

Predictable routines

  • Routines help with fear and anxiety at any age, and can be particularly important for toddlers and infants.

Breathing, meditation, relaxation

  • Teach your child to:
  • Make their body stiff and then let it be floppy.
  • Take long and deep breaths or practice other breathing exercises, i.e. pretending to smell the flower, blow out the candle.
  • Do simple meditation practice, i.e sitting quietly listening to soft music.
  • Practice these types of techniques often. When something fearful does happen, your child will have some ideas about coping. Parents benefit from these techniques too!

Positive self-talk 

  • Have your child practice saying out loud “I’m strong,” or “I’m calm.”
  • Praise your child for facing fears so they build confidence in their coping skills.

Parent Involvement

Balance is important in dealing with your child’s fears and anxiety. Take seriously and affirm your child’s specific fears or anxiety, but also give them confidence that they can successfully cope with them.

Afraid of wildfires and smoke?

  • Talk about your family’s plan of action if there was a fire nearby or in your home.
  • Help your child pack a bag of their “special things.”
  • Give positive feedback for effort.
  • Remind them that you will keep them safe.
  • Take note of your own fears and anxieties and how your child reacts.

Are they afraid of fires because they see your anxiety?

  • Address your own fears and watch for signs that your children are picking up on them.
  • Tell them what you do when you are afraid. “When I feel scared and nervous, I take a deep breath and relax my body.”

Being afraid is OK

Don’t be afraid of your child being afraid! It’s a normal part of life and can protect us from danger or provide needed energy. Affirm your child’s fears and help them face them, give them lots of love and support, and remember it’s always good for children, as well as parents, to learn to take deep calming breaths! It’s a de-stressing life skill they can use in many settings!

This article is brought to you by Parenting Now Parenting Educators and authors Amanda Bedortha, Claire Davis and Lynne Swartz and consultant Jay Thompson (andupdatemywebsite.com).  

 

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