Help Your Child Conquer Their Fears
Whether it’s monsters in the closet or a bug on the sidewalk, fears are a normal part of childhood development. In fact, experts say learning how to get past fears helps children become competent adults. Here’s how to ease your child’s anxiety.
Transition times are often when fearful behaviors arise, says Dr. Michael McKenna, a pediatrician with Riley at IU Health. “Children frequently regress during times of change, whether it’s starting a new school, moving, or having a new baby in the house.” If you know in advance about a situation that will most likely be upsetting to your child, take steps to head off any concerns. For example, if you're moving, introduce your child to the new home beforehand, if you can. If you're taking a vacation without your children, make sure the babysitter comes to the house a lot before you leave. Helping your child feel safe and comfortable will reduce his tendency to develop a fear that’s seemingly unrelated to the issue at hand.
Diversions are another tactic for offsetting fearful events. If your child is worried about going to the doctor’s office for a shot, tell her you’ll do something fun or interesting on the way home, and let her pick from a few special choices. Or bring his or her favorite books, toys or game to the office to help keep her mind off the appointment.
Find ways that work to cope with those fears from the child's point of view. For example, if your child is afraid of the dark, add a nightlight or keep the door cracked open. If monsters are a problem, get some “monster spray” (a spray bottle with water will do the trick) and do a "monster check" each day, or get a stuffed animal that’s designed to fight monsters.
Encourage but don’t command.
“It’s reasonable to push your child a little bit—we all grow when we are a little uncomfortable,” says Dr. McKenna. That said, if your child seems especially distressed, it’s time to lay off. “You want to set your child up for success, not failure. You are encouraging them to succeed.” And if your child seems especially anxious or worried, talk to your pediatrician, who can help offer some guidance on how to successfully reduce fears for good.
Kids’ Typical Fears Through The Ages
Infants (5-12 months) Objects coming toward them, sudden noises, strangers
Toddlers (1-2 years) Being left alone
Preschool (3-4 years) Animals, snakes, the dark, monsters
School age (5-9) Social or school fears
Early adolescence (10-12) Heights, criminals, older kids, parental anger, catastrophes
Teens Changes in bodies, isolation, sex, world events