Begging to bring home a new pet may be a childhood norm, but having some fear of animals or pets is also rather normal for kids. Whether from inexperience or a specific event, some kids are afraid of certain animals in a way that impedes interaction with friends and family. Helping your child move beyond such fears – or at least learn how to manage them effectively – can be a little tricky.
It seems we all have an irrational fear or two. As adults we’ve probably learned some coping skills to deal with those fear, either by facing them, avoidance or some other tactic. Kids need learn some of those same skills, and they need our help to do it. We may not understand our child’s fear of what we see as a harmless kitty cat or cute little dog, but your child fear should not be dismissed. Trying to sort out the source of the fear as well as helping your child deal with it can help both of you come to a better understanding.
Fear, phobia, or dislike?
First of all, you need to determine if your child’s reaction to an animal is a “simple” fear – fear of the unknown, related to a developmental stage – or a more intense phobia. A phobia is a fear taken to an extreme, one that interferes with the ability to go about normal daily activities. For example, if you and your child walk down the street and see a neighbor’s dog, fear might be manifested as your child clinging a little closer to you as you walk by; phobia might be manifested as a total meltdown and your child refusing to walk by at all.
There are also people – kids and adults alike – who just don’t like animals. This is more indifference than fear. It’s pretty normal, and should be respected. You can’t force your child to like cats or birds, and if it’s not interfering with regular activities, trying to force the issue likely isn’t necessary.
If your child is verbal, talking to him or her about why they are afraid of certain kinds of animals is a worthwhile first step. It may take a little coaxing, but if there was an event that triggered the fear, or there are misconceptions, those are things that can be managed and possibly even resolved. Helping a child separate a single experience from general experiences, or truth from misheard rumor, may help them to separate the fear from the reality. Then you can start trying to figure out a way to help your child manage the fear more effectively and maybe even move beyond it.
Depending on the fear, it may be appropriate to help your child face it. Find ways to give your child positive experiences with type of animal and learn about the right ways to interact with animals. For example, if your child is afraid of small dogs, you might enlist a friend with a small dog as a pet to help. Your friend can talk with your child about the dog, what it likes and doesn’t like, its personality, and so on. After learning about the dog, meeting it in a controlled environment for a short period (and perhaps for longer periods as time goes on) may help seal that understandning.
Helping your child to understand that animals have personalities, like humans, and all are a little different may help your child separate irrational fear of animals in general from relationships with specific animals. A fear or phobia may not be totally resolved, but with small, understanding steps, you may be able to ease that fear.
Sometime you have to accept
Sometimes, no matter your efforts, fears and phobias remain. Perhaps you can readdress the issues when your child is a little older – or perhaps not. Not forcing the issue might be the right thing to do. Like many adults have fears, rational or not, your child may just have this fear and you all need to accept it and help manage it.