Cincinnati Family Magazine

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May 26, 2024

Helping Kids Face Their Fears

Kids can have phobias about darkness, dogs, needles and more. Here’s how to help them cope.

As a child, I thought my parents weren’t afraid of anything. I called for 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 my room and I called my dad to help. When he saw what the problem was, he ran back out of the room in terror. My dad was terrified of wasps! At that moment, I realized that adults have fears, too.

It’s normal for children to have fears, says author Tamar Chansky, Ph.D., in her book, Freeing Your Child From Anxiety (Harmony; 2014). 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, fear of being dropped off at school, or fear of trying new things. Here are some tips to help kids face their fears.

Give Permission

Let your 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. Next, give your child tips on how to deal with different situations so you can work through the issue together.

Lauren Heller, a 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,” she says.

Problem Solve

Try to pinpoint exactly what your child is afraid of and discuss ways that it can be handled.

For example, when Jane Hammond’s 9-year-old daughter was afraid of falling during an ice skating competition, they discussed what would be the result of her fall — just get back up, no big deal.

“She did fall once in a competition, then got back up and finished. She was glad for the experience!” Hammond says.

If your child is afraid of the dark, using a night light may help solve the problem, or keeping the bedroom door open a crack. If it’s monsters under the bed he’s worried about, do a thorough check of the room together.

Teach Coping Skills

Each time your child is afraid, give him tools to overcome his 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. While giving your child the tools he needs to face his fears, be reassuring that you are always there to help when he is afraid.

Reward Bravery

As you see your child overcome fears or at least make efforts to face the things that scare him, reward him for his bravery. Giving positive feedback and acknowledging his efforts will encourage your child to keep trying to confront the things that cause his anxiety. Your encouragement and praise can really build your child’s confidence so he is prepared to face a variety of challenges.

As you work through these steps with your child, continue to be patient and supportive. As scary situations arise, encourage your child to share her feelings with you so that you can deal with them together. And tell your child about the fears you had as a kid or have now (nothing too= adult, mind you). For a kid, learning that your parent has a fear of wasps is fascinating. It makes you human, after all.

About the Author

Sara Lyons

Sarah Lyons is a midwestern mom of six children, including 2-year-old triplets.