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Help your children face their fears and be more confident

Raise your hands if you have never been afraid of anything. It’s safe to assume that most of us have feared something or another at some point in our lives.  We have eventually found the tools that help us deal with those fears and moved on (mostly).  Childhood fears may seem insignificant as compared to say the fear of being unable to provide a comfortable retirement for later, yet they are as important for the child. Especially from the growth and development perspective as behavioral inhibition or a tendency to withdraw from social situations a coping mechanism for children can later develop into anxiety disorders. The tools to cope can be provided early on and will enhance confidence and self-esteem.

Is it Normal for Kids to Have Fears?

Fear is an emotion that is linked to the survival instinct. It helps us to be cautious and tread more carefully. Clining to regular care givers for instance is natural as the child feels safe with them in a world that is full of new and scary things that are mostly much larger in size too.

What Do Kids Feel Afraid of?

Fears change with age and what may have been scary an year or even six month ago may not be as scary as kids get older and more confident of their surroundings.

Infants for instance may feel stranger anxiety. Their world is limited to their regular care givers and hence anyone new disturbs that world. They may cling to their parents and cry in unfamiliar situations and crowds. Loud noises may be upsetting.

For toddlers it can be separation anxiety. It is often a time of change as they start going to daycare and see their parents going away for longer periods of time.  Changes also can upset toddlers as they are just starting to explore the world and changes could make them insecure.

For preschoolers, it can be the unknown or pretend. They may be scared of the dark, of monsters, of large animals. Learning that there is world beyond what they can see through books, stories and other kids, they rely on imagination and it can also create some fears.

As they get older kids have fears of more real life things like natural disasters, losing a loved one and as they get to teenage social fears like looking bad, not fitting in, failure in exams etc become the big fears.

How can you help your child with fears like these?

Ignoring or belittling their fears is not going to help kids overcome these fears. For kids these are very real fears that need to be addresses and taken care of. Monsters under the bed may be imaginary but laughing at them or tough love approach may not make them go away and you will have a child who is

scared but has no outlet to express themselves. However giving in to their fears and appeasement is not going to help either. For instance if a child is afraid of dogs, letting that fear be and keeping them out of all situations with dogs is not recommended either.

The best approach is to listen attentively at first. When a child expresses fear in anyway, even when it is unspoken, pay attention and understand what makes them scared. Once you have ruled out any possibility that it might be real - a too harsh day care giver for example, you can approach the real problem.

It can be challenging and breaking it down into smaller bits may be the answer. Scared of the dark and sleeping in their own room? Put on the light in the bathroom for a while. Keep a bedside lamp on for a few days. Move on to making sure that they can reach the bedside light for a few days. Have a nightlight on for as long as it takes. The bite sized moves will help kids get acclimated to the change and get over their fear.

Make it fun. Reading a book by flashlight may be fun way to experience the dark. Or putting glow in the dark stars on the ceiling may help to dispel some fear         of the dark and make it something fun.

Do not let your fears affect them. You may not be a dog person, but let your child meet and greet friendly dogs. You can ask a neighbor or a friend to introduce the child to their friendly dog, so that your child does not grow up with similar fears.

Gradual is best. Slow and steady wins this race as well. It is impossible to get over a fear suddenly. For instance, dropping a child who is scared of swimming into the pool all at once is hardly the way to get them to love swimming. Let them may be float paper boats in the bathroom tub, then soak in them, splash about, play in the kiddie pool and then graduate to the big pool.

Do not push them too hard to face their fears. Even if they have agreed to take baby steps to face their fears, it is essential to not force them. If they refuse to sleep in the dark despite promising to do so, it’s no big deal. Let them do it when they are ready.

Do not make them a bigger deal than they are.  When you push too hard or make them a constant chore, children will get discouraged.  Afraid of getting on the swing? Maybe it’s something no one else is afraid of, but do not harp on that.  Let them play with other things in the backyard.  Just because you had a great time on the swing, you need not worry that they are missing out or that they are not brave enough.

Let them pick their pace. Fears are a part of self- preservation and children will do things when they are ready to do them. Let the child feel they are ready for the next steps before they move.

Give a hug of reassurance. When you are sacred, reassurance from someone you love goes a long way for anyone. Reassure your child with a hug, let them know its not an unsurmountable problem. This will go a long way in helping them get over their fear.

 

Parenting is moving at the child’s pace to build confidence and make them independent. Helping kids face their fears will enable them to become stronger individuals, and build self-confidence and self-esteem, which will eventually reflect in all that they do.  A little fear also will make them cautious and avert trouble while helping self-preservation. 

Now, if your fear is that you may not be the best parent ever, remember that you are the best parent for your child and loving your child will help you to be a good parent. (Also there are resources available should you have specific questions and you should not be afraid to ask for help) Happy parenting!

 

February 24, 2020 — Suchismita Pai

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