By Carrie Brazeal
Everyone experiences fear at some points in their lives. What do you fear? Spiders? Snakes? Heights? As adults, we usually learn to live with our fears, sometimes by avoiding them, sometimes by overcoming them. We occasionally forget that children have their own fears. These sometimes seem silly to us but they are very real to children. As a parent, I have dealt with fear of the dark, strangers and even monsters after a scary movie.
The good news is that children usually grow out of their fears. These fears exist because children know a little about something but not enough about it to deal with it realistically. Each age group faces its own set of age-related fears. Usually there is no need to worry about them. Although outgrowing age-related fears takes time, there are things you can to do help your child.
The Department of Child Development and Family Studies at Purdue Extension has these suggestions for helping children cope with their fears:
Accept and respect children’s fears. Fears are real to children so don’t laugh or say that their fears aren’t real. Children will grow out of most fears. They first need to learn skills to deal with their fears. These will help them for the rest of their life, so take the time to teach coping skills.
Spend extra time with your children when they seem to be afraid. During storms or at bedtime might be a time that children need extra attention. Combined with a fear of the dark, other fears seem larger. Including a song or story at bedtime might be comforting.
Establish a predictable routine. This make children feel secure in their world and helps them know what to expect.
Talk about feeling afraid. It’s important for children to learn to talk about their feelings, including fear. Learn how each of your children shows their fears. Some will suck their thumb or a finger. Others will fidget, whine, twirl or rub their hair, or complain more. When you talk with them about being scared, you are helping them to learn to talk about all their feelings. This also gives them a chance to tell you why they are scared.
Use play to talk about fears. Consider using dolls, puppets, stories and art to talk about being afraid. Encourage them to talk about their drawings or other creations. Children could also act out their fears, which would give them a sense of control.
Help children learn about the things that scare them. Knowing how things work and what to expect can make things less scary. Let them know that it’s OK to be a little scared of some things such as a dog you don’t know or strangers.
Talk about your fears. Children need to know that adults have different kinds of feelings. They also need to see how adults deal with these feelings. Name your feeling so children can learn to express their feelings with words. Talk about how fear makes you feel and tell them what you do to feel better.
Fear is normal in children of all ages. As a parent, we sometimes forget that a child’s fear is just as strong as our fears. Even though most fears are age related and will be eventually be outgrown, a little time, patience and love will go a long way in helping children cope with their fears.
Carrie T. Brazeal is the County Extension Agent for Family and Consumer Sciences with Texas A&M AgriLIfe Extension Service. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 972.424.1460, Ext. 4233.