Everyone, whether a baby, child or adult, at one point or another feels fear. Feeling anxious can be especially uncomfortable because this comes with the feelings that one needs to escape immediately, and fast! Your heart might beat quickly, your body might perspire, and you may even get butterflies in your stomach. Anxiety is no fun. Not for adults or for children. Anxiety is defined as ‘apprehension without apparent cause.’ That means that often when we feel anxiety, there is no immediate threat to our feeling of safety or well-being, but the fear seems real. This is important to keep in mind if your child runs into your room due to the monsters in their closet. You explain that there is no monster in the closet. They may be trying to believe you, but their anxiety may make them feel otherwise.
Before we get into some ways to deal with fear and anxiety, it’s important to highlight that these are not always bad emotions. Fear and anxiety can be helpful in making a child behave in a safe manner. For example, if a child is afraid of fire, they are less likely to play with matches. Every child, whether it’s separation anxiety on the first few days of school, or fear of a natural disaster, feels these emotions at some point or another. In fact, dealing with these fears and anxiety can prepare them for when they become a teenager or young adult and have to handle the unsettling experiences and challenges of real life situations they will certainly feel at different points in their lives.
How do you know if your child is experiencing these emotions?
They may appear to be clingy, impulsive and distracted. It’s not uncommon for parents to notice nervous actions and problems with sleep. Physiological responses include accelerated heart rates and breathing, as well as sweaty palms, nausea, headaches and stomachaches.
How can you help your child deal with fears and anxieties?
The first point is that it is important to recognize that their fears are real. Ignoring them doesn’t make them go away. Start by talking to your child. Talking about a fear makes the fear less powerful. Try your best not to belittle their fears. Comments like, “Don’t be ridiculous!” won’t make the fear go away. You also don’t want to cater to the fear. For example, if your child is afraid of dogs, always crossing the road will not help them deal with this fear. You may hold their hand and provide support as you pass by the dog.
Some children benefit from rating their fears. A scale of 1 – 10 can be helpful, or making it visual. Is the fear up to your knees, your stomach or your head? Help them put it into perspective and, this will help them realize when the fear is reducing.
Lastly, never underestimate the power of positive self-statements.
“I can do this.”
“I am ok.”
By helping your child develop this positive self-talk you are training them how to implement this into their lives and transfer it to other situations.
As children grow, many of their fears get either erased or replaced. Having a life free of fear and anxiety is not likely to happen, but the important thing is helping them realize that there is nothing wrong with being afraid and that there are ways that you can help them deal with their fears.
This article was initially printed in the Spring 2017 Issue of TCI Parent Magazine.