Getting Children to Face Their Fears

November 28, 2011

Getting Children to Face Their Fears

MonstersBeing a child can be scary sometimes. With so much going on in the world, most of it new and confusing, it’s not surprising that even young children can develop irrational fears about certain scenarios which make them feel anxious and afraid. The good news is, it’s easy to work with your child as a parent, teacher of care provider to work through these fears and learn to manage them effectively. Fear manifests itself in a number of ways. It can be an unarticulated worry which the child hasn’t even acknowledged aloud, and yet this concern can lead to enuresis (bed wetting), loss of confidence or sleeplessness. Knowing how to encourage a child to vocalize these worried can work wonders to allay them, leaving your child feeling confident and secure once again. For children, fear can come in all shapes and sizes, it could be fear of loud noises (such as balloons or fireworks), imagined threats (monsters under the bed or separation anxiety) or tangible concerns about being left out of peer groups or laughed at. The key for all types of fear is to support your child to face it fully, turning around and looking straight at the thing which worries them, to ensure that they know that their fears are ungrounded. The best trick possible for a care giver to use with a child is to encourage them to face the fear. Let’s take monsters under the bed as an example – by working through a simple conversation with them, it’s possible to show that there is nothing to be afraid of, and the monster under the bed can be despatched quickly. If your child is worried about the monster under the bed, try the following conversation:
  • Why are you worried about a monster under the bed?
  • Why would a monster choose your bed to hide underneath?
  • What could happen if there was a monster? What could you do?
  • What would the monster look like? What might he eat? Does he snore?
  • What do you think the worst thing that could happen would be if there was a monster under the bed?
  • Have you ever heard of (the worst thing) happening to someone? No? Me neither.
  • What could be good about having a pet monster?
In this way, a few simple questions can firmly ground the imagined fear, making it acceptable and sometimes even turning it around in to a positive. For more tangible worries such as loud noises, it’s again exploring together the very worst thing that could happen. For most of us, even in to adulthood, fear is about the unknown; the intangible concerns at the periphery of our thoughts. A balloon for example can be looked at in different ways, popped together, played with, drawn, considered, and made safe simply through gentle exposure and safe exploration. The worst thing that can happen with a balloon is it makes a loud noise when it is popped, so encouraging your child to take control of that worst case scenario can alleviate any fears about it happening. The most important thing to remember is that for children, fears are very real, just as they are for adults. The process of normalizing fears begins with acknowledging them, listening carefully, and then working with the child to re-frame the fear in to an articulated, manageable scenario.



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