By Marcia Hall
Fear is a primal emotion that is essential for survival. Children fear things because they are small people in a very big world that they understand very little of. It is natural and normal for them to be cautious of new and unknown things. However, for some children, fear is a serious problem that gets in the way of their normal growth, emotionally, academically and socially. Parents who want to teach their children to trust their instincts so they will stay safe, but also want them to learn to take chances in life can follow these four simple steps.
Don’t minimize or brush off their fears as not real. The fears that children have may seem insignificant and silly to adults, but they are very real and of great concern to children. If you were afraid of something and everyone went around saying that it was not a big deal and there was nothing to be afraid of, it would not help you get over your fears. In fact, it might make you more afraid and also frustrated. Telling a child that the thing that is keeping her up at night is silly will not only shame her and make her feel something is wrong with her, but will actually work to make her more afraid.
Validate the concern that is behind the fear. Parents should support the worry that is causing the child fear. Validating fear does not mean that a parent tells a child they SHOULD be afraid. It simply means that the parent lets the child know that it is OK to be worried about the situation. Validation comes in many forms and can be most effective with stories of a parent’s own childhood fears and worries. The story can also be told of how the parent overcame that fear. Validating can also be done with story books of children who were worried about something and conquered that anxiety.
Encourage the reasoning skills that have brought the child to the conclusion she has reached. When parents encourage the child’s reasoning skills the child is reassured that fear is not only normal, but can be defeated. Parents can say something like “I see that you have thought this out and are really very concerned about it because of ….. Have you thought of this too…?” By affirming the child’s perception parents can gain the child’s confidence. The child will then be more willing to accept alternate ideas about the situation that might help her overcome the fears she has.
Find one new thing to do a week together that is a little scary for you or your child. Mark Twain said that “Courage is not the absence of fear, but acting in spite of it.” Parents have just as many fears as children do, we just have better ways of concealing or incapacitating them. Help your child overcome her fears by finding one activity that one or both of you are afraid of each week and doing it together. This will make the action less scary because doing anything with someone else makes it at least a little less daunting. When the child has done the activity once, it will be a little less troublesome to do again and she will see that fears can be beaten. She will begin to work to conquer some of the other fears she has without adult help.
All children are afraid of something. One child might be afraid of climbing to the top of the jungle gym and another might be afraid of being alone in her bedroom. All these childhood fears can be conquered with a little understanding and encouragement from the adults in their lives.