As a child, I assumed my parents weren't afraid of anything. I would call on their help when I felt scared or nervous and they were always there to check under the bed for monsters and assure me that all was safe.
One day I found a wasp flying around in my room and I called my dad to help. When he saw what the problem was, he ran out of the room in terror. I learned my dad is terrified of wasps. And in that moment, I realized that adults have fears too.
It's normal for children to have fears. Kids may have bad dreams, be frightened of the dark, or find certain movie scenes scary. However, kids can develop fears that interrupt their everyday life, such as a fear of speaking in front of others or fear of trying new things.
Here are some tips to help kids face their fears:
Give Permission to be Afraid
Parents can let kids know that it is perfectly normal and acceptable to be scared. When you give a child permission to feel afraid, they can begin to acknowledge what is frightening them and face it head on. Parents can give tips on how to deal with different situations, even before they happen, and work through them together. Lauren Heller, mother of twins, says "For my preschoolers, we spend time talking about the event starting a few days before. I try to help them know what to expect and allow them to ask questions."
Try to pinpoint exactly what your child is afraid of and discuss ways that it can be handled. For example, when Jane Hammond's nine-year-old daughter was afraid of falling during an ice skating competition, they discussed what would be the result if she fell. The answer? Just get back up, no big deal. "She did fall once in a competitions, then got back up and finished. She was glad for the experience!" says Hammond.
Teach Coping Skills
Each time your child is afraid, give them tools they can use to overcome their fears. A child may be able to calm down by singing a song, hugging a stuffed animal, telling a joke, or declaring that monsters aren't real. Give your child the tools they need to face their fears and also reassure them you are always there to help them when they are afraid.
Reward for Bravery
As you see your child overcome fears or at least make efforts to face the things that scare them, reward them for their bravery. Giving positive feedback and acknowledging their efforts will encourage your child to keep trying to confront the things that cause them fear and anxiety.
A parent's praise can really build a child's confidence so they are prepared to face a variety of challenges.
As you work these steps with your child, continue to be patient and supportive. It is normal to have fears and it is appropriate to explain this to your child. As scary situations arise, encourage your child to share her feelings with you so that you can deal with them together.
Sarah Lyon is a part-time freelance writer and stay-at-home mom to six children, including two-year-old triplets.
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