Saturday, February 20, 2010

Children and Fears

Parents are often surprised at their child’s seemingly big fears of small things. Young children are still not able to tell the difference between reality and fantasy, and as such, they often ascribe human characteristics to inanimate objects. So, that loud jackhammer in the middle of the street could seem to a three-year like a real monster!

A lot also depends on a child’s temperament. Some children, just by their nature, are more apprehensive about things that are new or different from what they are used to. A change in routine or setting can be a quick switch for one child while it is traumatic for another. Parents cannot change their child’s innate nature, but they can help them manage their emotions and outlook through guidance and support.

Adults can use a skill called active listening when their child expresses being afraid. For example, when your child says she is afraid to go to her bedroom alone, a parent might respond with, “You are really worried about going to your room alone. I wonder what is scaring you?” This opens the door for your child to communicate about her fears, and it makes her feel like she is being supported. Assure your child that you are providing a safe environment in your home. Give hugs and messages that convey comfort and reassurance.

Acting out feelings with dolls or puppets is a great way to get a child to “talk” about their fears. By setting up a situation similar to the one that the child is uncomfortable with, a parent just might be able to gain insight into the child’s deeper thoughts and perceptions. This is also a great way to begin to problem solve with your child on strategies for dealing with the fear at hand. For example, if a child is acting out her fear of dogs, using a toy dog and a doll may help her to think of things to say to herself and actions she can take when confronted with a canine at the park.

Sometimes, it is not possible to avoid the situation or thing that arouses the anxiety in a child. If, for example, a child dislikes loud noise, and the family is going to an amusement park, parents can plan ahead with their fearful child. Is there a favorite tune that she can hum to herself or sing together when the noise level gets scary? Can he carry headphones to put on when he needs to feel a sense of comfort from the cacophony of the park? Such planning is an opportunity to teach children how to manage through life with their unique personalities and feelings.

Experts agree that parents ought to refrain from comments like, “Don’t be silly”, or “That’s nothing to be afraid of.” Fear is very real and makes sense to the beholder! Supportive language, empathy, and strategizing together are often very effective in helping a child deal with their fears. However, if your child has experienced a traumatic event which may have triggered the fear, do not hesitate to seek professional help for your child as well as for yourself. There is much to be gained from seeking the guidance of an expert who can assist your family in working through this challenge.

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