Fears are very common in children and are a part of growing up. Children can have fears that are mild to extreme at different ages and as they learn to cope with new and different experiences. Children can learn to overcome their fears with practice by talking through the fear with a trusted adult. Some fears are much stronger and can become paralyzing. If this is the case, it may be time to consider professional help, such as counseling.
Every child is different in how they experience and deal with fears. People may experience the same event differently and their reactions can be different too. That is why not everyone is scared or worried about the same things. When we experience an event as threatening or harmful, our built in protective response to that event is fear. This leads us to action. Our brain moves us quickly into our fight, flight or freeze response to protect us.
Encourage your child to name and talk about their fear so that they can continue to do the things they enjoy doing. When we talk about what we are afraid of, it doesn’t seem so scary. You can assure your child that they are safe, and you are there to help them through their big emotions. Let them know you believe in them, and are there to support them.
Some children are fearful when they are beginning something new such as school, camp, or an after-school activity. This is a fear of the unknown. You can help your child by validating their feelings, and by giving them information about what they can expect. The more information we have, the less our fears can take over.
Some children have a strong reaction to a scary event or anticipated event, and try to avoid the feeling and not talk about it. They may not be sure why they are fearful, or they may not have the vocabulary to talk about it. Asking questions and checking for understanding will help you understand why your child feels this way. Even if you think they are being irrational or unreasonable, validate their feelings and tell them you understand. That will help their brain move through their fear and then they can access the thinking part of their brain to come up with coping strategies.
Some children show their fear in subtle ways. They may avoid doing something that they used to love, they may cry a lot more, become more sensitive to minor upsets, or scream and run to you or people they trust. They may want to leave the situation and be very insistent about it. If your child is expressing themselves in this way, check in with them to determine what they are feeling. Always be willing to listen to your child’s concerns and validate them. As children get older their fears will change and will become more wrapped up in fearing what others might think of them. They may experience embarrassment at the thought of talking in front of the class, or reading out loud. They may feel embarrassed about their changing body. These fears are a normal part of growing up, and knowing you are there to help them negotiate their fears will go a long way in giving your child the confidence and skills to cope with them.
Fear is a healthy response to danger, and can keep your child safe from things such as animals that are unfriendly, or deep water. If the fear becomes too large, then the fear will take over and it will not match the real danger. When the fear becomes overwhelming, and your child has trouble negotiating all the things they need to do in their daily life, that is the time to seek professional support. It can take time for children to overcome their fears. Patience, support, and practice will help your child overcome what they are afraid of. You can help your child by teaching them how to cope with their fears and encourage them to gradually approach the activities they fear. It's ok to be afraid and to have fears. If those fears become overwhelming, seeking help is powerful and will help you and your child in the long run.
This article is brought to you by Parenting Now Parenting Educators and authors Amanda Bedortha, Claire Davis, and Kalina Glover-Moresi.