There are some universal guidelines you should adopt in dealing with a child’s fears:
- Never belittle a child’s fears
Sometimes children are fearful of things that seem absurd or unimportant to adults. Even if a child’s fears seem silly or ridiculous to you, they aren’t to the child. Remember: Fear is an emotion, and emotions are never right or wrong, they simply are. If you dismiss a child’s fears, you dismiss a part of them. So don’t do that!
It’s important to help a child confront irrational fears, but you don’t accomplish this by belittling or dismissing these concerns or telling them their thoughts are silly. Lecturing a child to get over it simply by barking “there is no such thing as a monster, now you need to get over this and go back to bed” isn’t helpful. This has the effect of telling a child that adults don’t understand and won’t comfort them, which only leaves a youngster more terrified. Acknowledge their fear, sympathize with their emotions, and then help them towards the thoughts and perspectives that will put their fears at ease: “I can imagine how scary it must feel to think a monster’s out to get you, so I understand why you’re so upset. But I can also assure you that monsters aren’t real, and there’s nothing in this house that is going to harm you.”
- Don’t play into a child’s anxiety
As tempting as it may be, resist the urge to simply avoid what triggers your child’s fear. Doing so can feed into their anxiety and make their fears seem justified, potentially making the situation worse. Some situations will arise when you’ll need to manage a child’s fears, but don’t go to great lengths to avoid the stimulus in question completely. Confronting one’s fears is a growth and development opportunity, and kids need some exposure.
- Don’t ridicule, coerce, punish or ignore
These methods should never be used in dealing with a child’s fear. Ridiculing a child over her fear is verbal abuse. Coercing them into fearful situations betrays trust. Ignoring them as they drown in terror shows a lack of empathy and will only make their anxiety worse. And punishing a child for scary feelings that they can’t control is a great way to create a deeper disturbance.
- Fear and child behavioral problems
Fears may sometimes be expressed by moodiness or other behavioral problems. Not all kids will tell you “this scares me,” especially younger kids, who may be incapable of expressing their thoughts. Keep this in mind as you deal with them.
- Older kids often feel ashamed of their fears
Older kids may try to disguise their fears because they’re ashamed or think that others will ridicule them. So they may make excuses to avoid something without telling you the real reason why. It’s important for adults to respond tactfully and without ridicule, and to provide a trusted outlet where a child can speak his emotions.
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