How to Deal With Your Child's Fears?

2 year(s) ago
How to Deal With Your Child's Fears?

Throughout our childhood, one word that is very commonly used to tease and ridicule others is ‘coward' or ‘darponk' in Hindi. I am sure all languages have one such word which is a childhood favourite. And the one who is called so feels extremely insulted as it is a direct attack on the self esteem! But the earlier we realize that being scared is not such a negative thing after all and that everyone experiences fear, life becomes much simple.

Though a child is not born with fear, the emotion develops soon, somewhere in the later half of the first year of infancy. The first fear that is generally seen is a fear of strangers or stranger anxiety. This fear is seen when a child starts recognizing his caregivers and can differentiate between known and unknown people.  He looks at his parents for reassurance and reactions are quite dependent on parents' reactions to strangers. If the mother is comfortable with the strangers, the anxiety is less. But if the child senses the mother's discomfort, the fear and anxiety increase.

Gradually as the children grow up, they learn to fear many things; injections, doctors, darkness, monsters, ghosts, insects, animals, school, teachers, thunder, lightning, horror shows and the list could go on. In today's uncertain world, children are scared of kidnappers, hijackers, terrorists and also natural calamities like earthquakes and floods. Accidents and deaths in the family also scare children. We need to first understand if the fears are rational or irrational. A child feeling scared of terrorists after watching the extensive coverage of Paris attacks is quite rational in his fear. But a fear of some uncle because of his beard or fear of shadows may not be a rational fear. Also the age of the child is crucial in determining the approach that parents need to take. Assuring a younger child that we are safe from robbers and nothing will happen to us may be fine. But with a little older child, one may have to actually show all the precautions that parents have taken so that no intruders can enter the house.  But parents are often at their wit's end when they have to deal with their child's fears and often a well meaning approach has a disastrous effect.  Given below are a few pointers that could be helpful.

  • Accept your child's fear. Do not ridicule or belittle him or her about it. Acceptance does not imply that you do nothing about it, it only means do not start with a mind frame of ‘how can you be scared of ….?!'
  • Remember that everybody is scared of something. Some express, some do not. Think of your own fears. Aren't some of us as rational adults still scared of spiders, dogs, cockroaches, lizards, darkness etc..?
  • Assure your child that you are there and you will help him or her deal with the fear.
  • Let them know that it is alright to be fearful. When you talk in this manner to your child, you are reducing the chances of your child bullying another child for being scared.
  • When dealing with fear of doctors and injections, it is essential to communicate that all visits to doctors do not end in shots. When you are sure that your child is not going to be pricked, promise him so. Even if the doctor reminds you of a pending vaccination, tell him or her that you will come back for it as today was promised as a no prick day. The child feels secure and learns to trust you. Do not forget to reward your child for not crying.
  • When taking a child for injections, do not give false assurances that it will not pain. ‘Yes it will pain, but you will soon forget it.' When as parents we say ‘Don't worry', the child realizes that this is something to be worried about! Play Doctor-Doctor at home, let the child be the doctor. Let the child understand the importance of injections and vaccinations. In spite of all this, there will be some fear and lots of crying. Do not despair, it will reduce with age. Try distracting your child when he is taking a shot.
  • When dealing with natural calamities you could assure your child that you do not live in an earthquake prone zone and if you do, you could state the measures that you have taken for safety. Reassurance that the child will be cared for is crucial.
  • When dealing with irrational fears like ghosts and monsters check each corner of the house before bedtime with your child. Assure safety. Keep a light on. Keep talking about how they do not exist. If the stimulus is some shows that they watch on television or books that they read, stop them immediately.
  • Keep talking to your child about his fears and anxieties. Brainstorm with him about ways in which he could deal with them.

Each child and each fear needs to be dealt separately but acceptance and reassurance are the key words when dealing with fears of any kind.

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Author
Prachi Chitre
Prachi has more than 15 years experience in the field of Mental Health. During this time, she has helped parents manage a variety of issues ranging from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder(ADHD), Autism, giftedness, cognitive impairment, emotional and behavioural difficulties to daily child development/ parental concerns. She holds a Masters in Human Development and Bachelors in Psychology. Her 11 year old son and gang of nieces and nephews offer her multiple opportunities to practice the concepts of Child Development, lest she forgets to view things from a child’s point of view.

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