Children’s fears and phobias can feel overwhelming to them one day and then disappear the next. Some fears have longer lives than others, but the majority of them change with age. Before the age of two, some of the most frightening things for children are large objects, loud noises, separation from parents, and “stranger danger.” From ages 3 to 6, children can battle with fear of the dark or imaginary creatures. When children are 7 to 16 years of age, their fears become more realistic but can still range from things like participating in school performances or swimming lessons for kids to something less immediate like the fear that a natural disaster could occur. If you want to help your child address what scares them, here are six tips to help you on your way:
Help Your Child Feel Safe
Whether they are an infant or a high schooler, you can help your child work through their fears by being a safe person to them. When they are young, it could be as simple as speaking in soothing tones and telling them that they are OK. As they get older, your ability to listen to them and help them express their feelings can create that feeling of safety. Doing things like checking under the bed for monsters or helping a child prepare for a test shows them that you hear their fear and are entering into it alongside them.
Your child senses your emotions even as an infant, so if you are anxious about a situation, chances are they will be too. The opposite holds true as well—if you are calm and undisturbed about a situation, they will pick up on that also, whether or not a word is spoken to that effect.
Create a Fear Ladder
A fear ladder can help your child work their way through what scares them one step at a time. To build a fear ladder, you must first help your child list all of the different aspects of their fear. Once you have those pieces, arrange them in order of least scary to most scary. Then, address the ladder a step at a time, not moving on to the next step until they are comfortable with the level they are on, and it no longer feels scary.
In a world full of instant gratification, patience is more of a virtue than ever. Unfortunately, fears do not resolve themselves immediately for children or adults, they take time. If you want to use the fear ladder, for example, to help your child overcome a specific fear for good, you are going to need a great deal of patience as you progress through the various steps together.
As you watch your child work their way through their fears, encourage them along the way. Every baby step forward should be acknowledged and praised so that they can see, just like you do, that they are making progress.
Children’s fears and phobias won’t last forever, but you can help address those that linger longer than you would like. Your best line of defense is to help your child feel safe. You can do that in a variety of ways, including listening to their fears and being calm in the face of unnerving situations. If you want to engage in something more tangible, help your child create and work through a fear ladder, being as patient and encouraging as possible along the way. However you choose to address it, keeping an open and positive outlook will go a long way.