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Tackling Fear

HOW DO I HELP DEAL WITH MY CHILD'S FEARS?

Fear is the most basic emotion and normal part of development. All children will have fear of some kind at some point in their life. These fears are normal and part of growing up and basic survival instinct. Eg you do not expect a child NOT to be afraid of darkness. Children going to school normally have fears of separation from mother/ caretaker, new faces/ surroundings (especially starting school), injury while playing and another child bullying.

One must act

  • if these fears are irrational
  • if they persist for too long
  • if the child is overly preoccupied with the subject that is feared, severely inhibiting child’s day-to-day functioning
  • if the child can not be distracted away from the fear
  • if child can not be reassured

Whether or not a fear is irrational depends on a child's age and developmental level. For example, it is normal for a 1 year old to be afraid of being alone with strangers, but it would be irrational for a 5 year old to have the same fear.

Some children have a triggering event leading to fear. Eg near drowning/ seeing some one drown leading to fear of water; being bitten once giving fear of animals etc

Some children are more fearful than others and this is usually due to the type of temperament. Also, children who have parents that are very anxious, fearful or who tend to overreact to things, often have children who have the same reactions in similar situations.

Tips on helping your child get over his fears:

  • Talk to him about his fear. Ask why is he afraid? This can be especially helpful if there was a triggering event.
  • Never try to demean your child because of his fears. Never laugh or joke about his fears. Respect his feelings and fears. It does not help to use put down words, such as ‘it’s time you grew up’ 'you are being a baby by getting afraid of that,' or ignoring the things that he is afraid of.
  • Don't be overprotective and make him avoid all the things that he is scared of. At the same time don't try and force your child into doing things he is afraid to do.
  • Don't overreact. Your extra attention reinforces your child's reactions.
  • Lend support as he learns to master his fears. For example, if your child is afraid of changing to a new school, you should be empathetic. Before he shows his fears, you should say 'I know you are scared of the new school and worried about making new friends, but I am sure you will feel much better once you get started'.
  • If he is scared of not making new friends remind him that he has always made friends before and provide encouragement. It will definitely help to model or role play on how to go up to strangers and introduce himself.
  • Remind him of times in past that he was afraid and for which he no longer has fears.
  • At the risk being repetitive, reassure and comfort your child as you help him to face his fears.

When to seek professional help?

When a fear seems like turning into a phobia, with your child not responding to repeated reassurances or not being able to be distracted away from the fear, especially if the fears are interrupting his development or daily activities, then you should seek professional treatments from a child psychologist.

Next month:

When your child is bullied?

Send us your opinions/suggestions/experiences at ceo@growingwell.com