Was Halloween a little too scary for your little one? Or does your child have fears that extend past the season of ghouls and goblins? Small children tend to be more afraid of things not based in reality, such as monsters and ghosts, than older kids. Big kids aren’t immune to fear, though; their fears often reflect real circumstances, which can be even scarier. So what can you do to help your child conquer their fears? Check out the tips below!
First and foremost, remember not to label feelings of fear as ‘wrong.’ As trivial as monsters seem to you, they might feel very real to your child. Make sure to talk to your child about their fears in an understanding and sensitive way. Don’t assume you know how they feel. Instead, ask what they think will happen or what exactly they’re afraid of. Gently correct any misconceptions, and then offer assurance.
Ignoring a child’s fear in the hopes that they’ll just get over it can make things worse. Statements such as “big kids aren’t afraid of the dark” can shame kids into silence, and won’t fix a fear of the dark. Instead, try validating kids’ feelings: let them know it’s permissible to have and to express fears. Let them know that these feelings make sense, and that it’s OK to feel whatever they’re feeling.
But validation doesn’t mean catering to a fear. If your child’s fear is dogs, don’t cross the street deliberately to avoid one. Instead, use an encounter with a fear as a teaching moment. Suggest coping strategies like taking deep breaths or saying “I can do this” out loud. Ask your child to approach a feared object only one or two steps at a time, acting as a home base your little one can retreat to if they become too scared. Handle things like fear of the dark in steps, transitioning from a big lamp to a small nightlight until your child is comfortable trying lights out.
Lastly, the way you handle your own fears has a great influence on your kids. When a parent is afraid, kids sense it, but the example you set by managing your fear shows your child what a positive response looks like. Think hard about what you might be afraid of, and how you face it. Share this experience with your children. Once they see that Mom and Dad are scared of things too, not only will they feel okay about their fear, but they’ll know that if you can handle it, nothing is stopping them.