By Elissa Cirignotta
Our fears are never going to fully go away; sometimes we overcome one and then another pops up in a different way, time, or place. They are here and a part of us. Instead of treating them like a nuisance let’s try to approach them with curiosity and compassion. I invite you to consider fear to be the places within us awaiting our love and attention. Read on for how to help your kids face and overcome their normal childhood fears with an extra dose of compassion.
Try to understand your child’s fear. Young children are still discovering the world that they live in. Their imagination is developing and things they see or hear in real life can result in the formation of scary mental images. This can lead to all sorts of fears! Including a fear of darkness or of imagining a monster in the dark room. Ask questions that help inspire introspection and help your kids sort through all of the overwhelming emotions surrounding fear. For example, “When you feel scared what happens in your body? What do you need to do in order to feel safe?”
Talk to your child. Talking to your child about your fears can help them feel more comfortable and let them know they are not alone. Ask your child to share their fears with you. If they are able to, have them explain why they are afraid of that particular thing and where that fear may have come from. Let them explain how it feels to be scared. It’s okay to let your kids know about some of your childhood fears, ones that you may have overcome, and some that keep popping up throughout your life. Show your concern and love for your child’s experience as you talk about fears. This demonstration of empathy can strengthen your bond with your child.
It’s okay to be scared. It’s common to hear parents say things like, “Don’t be scared” or “See, your friend is not scared” etc etc. Try to avoid this language. This can make your child believe that they are wrong to be scared. When kids feel like there’s something wrong with their behavior it often leads to them sharing less and less information with you. Make sure your child understands that it is alright to be afraid and to ask for help.
Listen to what they have to say. Do not ignore your child’s fear. It is there for a reason, even if you can’t fully understand it. If your child is scared of a particular relative, caregiver or a neighbor, don’t ignore it or force the child to be with that person. Instead, let your child explain what makes them fearful of that person or experience. Even if you think the person is unlikely to cause any harm give your child the benefit of the doubt. Listen to what they have to say and let them feel heard.
Take it seriously. There’s a time and place for making jokes. Sometimes it can be healing to treat fears with a lighter more jovial approach but when you are first exploring your child’s fears take them all seriously. Making fun of a child’s fear will not make them less fearful. It can however increase their anxiety and lower their self-esteem. This can lead to more intense problems like developing phobias which is an advanced state of fear. We can overcome fears only with your love, care, and attention.
Give them time to process. Do not force your child to do something that they are scared of. Allow them the time to process, adjust as needed, and determine what steps are needed to face this fear. Support them with love and care.
Model being brave. Kids are social learners and will often follow your lead, your actions, and your cues. Notice how you respond when you encounter fear. If you flail your arms, scream, and run out of the the room every time you see a spider your child may react in similar ways when they encounter something they are afraid of. Next time you see that terrifying spider, take 3 big deep breaths, voice your concern if you must, and make a plan. “Mommy is very scared right now. I am going to take a big breath and move away from the spider.”
Keep kids away from scary characters. A young child cannot completely differentiate between reality and fantasy until they are around 8 years old. Kids can easily get scared of the fantasy characters they watch on television. Turn off the scary TV shows or commit to having limited screen time together.
Make sure your child knows they are loved and you will always be there to protect them. Let them know that you are always available to listen and help whenever needed. Let them journal or draw about their feelings or experience. Keep the doors of communication constantly open.
Try using this Guided Relaxation to help your child release their fears.
Find a comfortable position on your back and slowly begin to listen to the sound of your beautiful breath. Feel your breath coming in, listen to it going out.
On your inhale imagine breathing in love, whatever that may mean to you. Let it fill you from your tippy toes to your finger-tips and to the top of your head.
Now exhale out your fears and worries, about anything and everything...school, grades, the dark... etc.
Breathe-in love now imagining that your breath is like a river sweeping through your body. It makes you feel strong, safe, and relaxed.
Breathe out your frustrations. Breathe out your fear. Imagine seeing your fear leave your body. In your mind watch yourself waving goodbye. "Goodbye fear!"
Breathe-in love and think, “I am calm.” Breathe out love.
Breathe in love and think, “I can do this.” Breathe out peace.
Breathe-in peace, whatever that may look like to you and feel your body relaxing. Breathe-out love.
Breathe-in love, breathe-out peace.
Continue for as long as you want!