Children generally develop fears of a particular animal because that creature’s appearance and/or mannerisms seem odd or somehow threatening. Therefore kids may come to fear animals that adults don’t typically consider to be scary. For example, a child may come to fear bunnies because the way in which they are constantly twitching their noses seems like a strange and mysterious thing to a youngster. In the same way clowns may appear scary because they look abnormal (even in a happy way), certain animals may simply give a child the creeps.
Animals are also unpredictable, which can bother highly-anxious children. Other kids who develop phobias of specific animals may have picked up bad information along the way that feeds into their fears. For instance, they may have been told that cats come from witches, or been spooked by a sinister looking horse in a children’s cartoon. It could also be because they’ve had a bad experience with this animal before that you might not know about. Whatever the case, here are some ideas you can apply to just about any animal fear.
Helping children overcome a fear of animals
- If your child is old enough to communicate, do some probing to try and find out what frightens her. Ask her what she knows and understands about this animal. Ask her specifically what scares her. Another technique commonly used by therapists is to get a deck of animal flashcards (or simply print out pictures of assorted animals from the Internet). Be sure a child’s feared animal is among them. Then one by one, show them a picture of each animal and ask whether this animal is good or bad, and ask them to explain why. Their comments about the other animals will often help you better understand their thinking about animals in general, which can offer valuable clues about why a particular animal is feared.
- Because specific animal fears are so commonly tied to that animal’s mannerisms, one of the best ways to combat this is for you to do some research on this particular animal and learn all you can about them. Then relay this information to kids at opportune times throughout everyday life. The more kids know about a particular creature, the less mysterious it is, which can decrease a child’s fear substantially. By continuing to throw this information out there, you may stumble upon something that completely alters their perspective. In particular, look for information on things like what they eat, where they live, how they sleep, how they care for their young, or the purpose behind their behavior and/or body type.
- Conduct animal play sessions with kids. Get out a set of toy animal figurines, and play with them while representing the feared animal in a kind and sympathetic way. Better yet, get down on your hands and knees and engage in a little dramatic play. Each of you picks an animal to be, and then enact that animal’s character as you weave together a play story. Switch animal roles every so often, and after a couple of goes, adopt the character of their feared animal, so long as this doesn’t terrify them. Have your child tell you how to behave (which lets them feel a sense of control), and once again, play in a way that presents this animal in a gentler light. You might also do the same through puppet play or puppet shows.
- Use humor. Make animal sounds to goof around, including whatever animal your child happens to be afraid of. Tell animal jokes, and invite the kids to come up with their own.
- Rule out allergies. Sometimes children may come to fear an animal that makes them feel sick, and the tears cover up the other symptoms.
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