Whether it's monsters, robbers, dark rooms, or dentists; everyone has fears at some point during their childhood. As parents, we want to help overcome these fears in our children but maybe we don't know the best way. Do we make them face their fears? Do we comfort them when they are afraid? Is this just a phase they will grow out of? These are some of the questions many parents have and this is why we're offering 8 steps for you to try to help overcome your child's fears. But please remember, every child is different and no child will just "get over" a fear overnight. We hope these steps will help your family understand these fears and take a step in the right direction!
Step 1: Addressing the Fear
Sometimes the actual fear itself can be unclear to parents so be sure to talk to your child about their fear. They may say they are afraid of the dark but it could really be they're afraid of monsters in their room. Or they could say they are afraid of night time but they are actually afraid of robbers snatching them in the middle of the night.
Step 2: Speaking with your Child Respectfully
Be patient and listen to your child when they talk about their fear. Try your best to understand this fear and take it seriously - it may not seem like a big deal to you, but it's a big deal to them. Don't tell them they're being silly or ridiculous, or that there's "nothing to be afraid of" because they will feel embarrassed. It will comfort them knowing you understand this fear and you're there to help them overcome it. You can even talk about your fears and explain that this is a normal feeling to have.
Step 3: Don't Encourage the Fear
One common mistake parents make is they are actually encouraging a fear without even realizing it. For example, if your child is afraid of monsters - do not do a routine "monster check" at bedtime. If you do this, your child will then think you believe in them too and you will only be supporting their fear. Instead, offer to do a routine "check-up" on them later in the night. It will comfort them to know they will see you again before morning. Ask your child what will make them feel better (stuffed animal, flashlight, etc.) and then provide them with these tools to help them face their fears.
Step 4: Communicate Their Feelings
Now that you know what your child is afraid of, always be aware of their fear. This means you should come up with a system for both of you to communicate that they are afraid. This could be coming up with a code word that they can secretly tell you and you will immediately understand they are scared. Or they can grab your hand and squeeze really tight 3 times. Once you are aware that they feel scared, you can help comfort them properly.
Step 5: Create a Rating System
Sometimes, if a child can visualize their fear on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the most afraid) this will help them see the progress they make day to day. For example, if they rate their fear as a 6, when the day before it was an 8, this will help them see the difference and take them one step closer to a 1 on their rating scale!
Step 6: Establish a Game Plan
Talk with your child about what makes them feel happy and relaxed. This will be your start of establishing a coping strategy for when your child is afraid. If they love animals, have them picture themselves on a sunny day at the zoo, what animals do you see and what is your favorite? Or if they like the ocean, have them close their eyes and imagine they're at the beach. This will be their go-to routine for when they start to feel afraid. Other coping strategies include deep breathing and reciting confident phrases, such as "I'm a big girl and I can do this!"
Step 7: Give Praise and Encouragement
Now that you have a system in place for addressing the fears and ways to cope with it, you have to remember to praise your child for facing their fear. If they are afraid of dogs, next time you walk by a dog and your child doesn't cry, tell them how brave they are and you're proud of them! Once they see HOW brave they are, it will only get easier for them in the future!
Step 8: Stop the Source!
Most fears in children come from TV. We know it's hard to monitor everything but this is why it's SO important to limit the shows and movies your young children watch. Something an older sibling is watching may jump to a whole new level for a 3 or 4 year old. Kids' imaginations are at their highest at this age and this is how they develop most of their fears. Fears can also develop from story books as well - what looks like a simple drawing of a witch or a big bear can really come to life in their mind. "Well, I can't stop reading books to them!" No, you can't stop EVERYTHING from scaring your child but just try to remember the content of the story and the effect TV shows, movies, and books have on a small child.