In the first years of life, children are continually learning about the world around them and their place in it. They have new experiences every day, some of which are frightening. Many things, such as separation from parents, unfamiliar people, loud noises, animals, or the dark, can trigger fear in small children.
Even if it seems insignificant to parents, a child’s fear is very real. The first step in helping your child deal with fear is simply to provide reassurance. Let her know that you love her and you will keep her safe. This gives a feeling of security that will help her gradually learn to face her fears.
Children need to know that everyone has fears, and that it is OK to feel afraid. Allow him to express his feelings without worrying about being teased or punished. Let him know that everyone, even Mom or Dad, is scared sometimes. Telling him he is just being silly, or acting like a baby, does not make the fear go away, but instead adds a feeling of shame.
When your child feels safe in knowing that you understand, and that he can come to you for help when he is afraid, the next step is to help him find ways to cope with the fear.
Do not try to eliminate situations that might cause your child to be scared, but rather work together to find ways to deal with the fear. If your child is scared of the dark, use a night light. Spend some time with your child in the dark and talk with her about the shadows and noises so she is more comfortable. Teach some calming techniques, like taking a few deep breaths, or humming a happy tune. Make up funny stories together about the monster under the bed, turning it into a friendly creature.
Allow your child to face his fears at his own pace. Forcing a child to pat a dog, hug an unfamiliar relative, or climb to the top of the play structure before he is ready doesn’t usually have a positive effect. Instead, acknowledge small achievements. Gradually, the fear will be replaced with confidence.
It is important to remember that a certain degree of fear is healthy. We don’t want our children to be so fearless that they are not wary of strange people or situations. Be sure your child is aware of potential dangers so she can be mindful, but not fearful. If you have fears surrounding your child’s well-being, try to put limits in place that make you comfortable without transferring your own insecurities.
By supporting your child’s efforts as he conquers his fears, you are giving him tools that he can use when faced with new challenges throughout his lifetime.
Shawna Munro works at the Elspeth Reid Family Resource Centre, a facility of Child and Family Services of Western Manitoba that offers parenting information and support.
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Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition April 12, 2012