It’s that shriek you know well. “Mommy, I’m scared!” What is it this time, you wonder and groan? A dog? A dust bunny? Something else you know to be perfectly fine? But your child is scared. Your child has developed a fear, however irrational it seems to you, and it must be managed — before it becomes a true phobia. Fear is a very normal human emotion, but helping your little sweetheart figure all that out can be as challenging for you as that shriek.
So if your child has a fear, what can you do? You can:
- Don’t dwell on it
Fears are normal
Fear is a normal emotion and a normal part of child development. As long as it doesn’t become a barrier to the rest of your child’s life, there may be nothing to do. Similarly, dismissing fear as “silly” or “nothing” may not have the intended effect. Rather than removing the fear, your child may just hide it and not deal with it — and then it becomes bigger and bigger and bigger.
Reassure your child that fears are normal. Every kid has them, and even though kids might not be afraid of the same thing, just about every kid feels fear for something. Your child is not alone. There are other kids who are afraid of the dark or of birds and the fear may ease over time.
Age and experience-appropriate education
Use age and experience-appropriate education to help your child understand that which he or she is afraid of. If your child is afraid of dogs (for seemingly “no” reason) learn about dogs and ways to approach them safely — and what not to do around dogs. This understanding may help your child at least manage the fear more effectively.
If there was some experience that triggered the fear — for example, an experience with an aggressive dog — education is still appropriate but may need to be taken much more slowly, and with additional reassurance and care and trust-building to manage the emotional trauma as well as the fear. And don’t force your scared child, whatever the reason, to interact with a dog because you think he or she needs to “get over it.” You could only make the trauma and fear worse!
Mitigate the fear
If easy and appropriate, mitigate the fearsome issue. Especially if it’s an issue your child will need to face on a daily basis, try to brainstorm ways to mitigate it in a way that is acceptable for both of you. For example, if your child is afraid of the dark, nightlights do help. If your child needs more light than that, you can develop a plan to step down the amount of light in a room over time.
Don’t dwell on it!
If you’ve reassured and educated, and the fear is still there — and it’s not interfering with day-to-day life — leave it be. Don’t force your child to approach big dogs or birds or sleep in pitch darkness, and don’t dwell on the fear on a daily basis. Fear is a normal human emotion and part of our development.
Chances are, with some care and consideration your child will grow out of his or her fears. Your daughter will pet dogs again and your son will sleep with (most of) the lights off. It takes time to learn to manage the emotions of life, and your young child can’t do it all in a day.
More on helping children with fears
- Books that help kids overcome fears
- Helping kids overcome fears
- 13 Tips for handling night terrors in kids