Spooky and Scary – When Children Have Fears
A child’s fear is a world whose dark corners are quite unknown to grownup people – Julien Green
Look at those silly and spooky jack-o-lanterns! When we see them, we feel the excitement of Halloween approaching. October is chock-full of candy corn and fun-sized chocolate bars, but also skeletons and spiders, witches, ghouls and ghosts. In the mind of a child, what seems like harmless spooky fun to us can be frightening!
Once we reach adulthood, we often forget the intensity of our own childhood fears and the things our children are frightened by may not make sense to us. But a child’s imagination is vibrant and wild – and very real to them. By the age of 4-5 years, children still are not able to distinguish fantasy from reality, and this “magical thinking” can cause some very real fears. In fact, fear is a normal part of childhood in many forms.
Helping Kids Control their Fears
We know from the experts that children need to learn to manage their fears on their own to help them develop confidence and independence. But we can’t expect them to learn it all on their own! Kids need caring, trusted adults to help them learn to keep their fears out of the driver’s seat. But how do we help our kids control their fears instead of allowing their fears to control them? We have some ideas:
- Don’t minimize your child’s fears. As we said before, they really do think there could be monsters under the bed. Let them know you understand by reflecting what you see and hear from them: “You heard a sound outside your window and it scared you.” Then, reassure them that they are safe. Look out the windows and under the bed and let them know there are no monsters and that home is the safest place to be.
- Use the powers of magical thinking to help ward off the fears. A relaxing aromatherapy spray becomes “monster repellant” when used at bedtime. Spray around the bed to protect them from monsters and they will enjoy the relaxing benefits of lavender essential oil at the same time! Or give your child a special necklace or bracelet with “protective powers” to keep them safe wherever they go Once magical thinking is a thing of the past, children have a new tool in their arsenal that can help them manage their fears – the ability to reason. It is still important to validate their feelings of fear, but it’s also possible to help them think about their fears in new ways so that they don’t feel overpowered by them.
- Talk to your kids about what worries or scares them. Sometimes their fear is based in misinformation that can be quickly cleared up. Be sure to let them know that their fears are not “silly” or “childish” because just like the younger kids, their fears feel very real to them.
- Empower your child with information. Many children share a fear of thunderstorms or severe weather. Weather anxiety is a real thing! One thing that can help a child manage their fear of severe weather is to learn more about it. Knowledge can help them feel stronger them their fear. Here are some additional tips to help children feel calm during a storm.
- Give them simple tools to use at school when they have test anxiety or social worries. We like Calm Strips, textured vinyl decals in various colors and designs, that can be affixed to items your child has on hand like folders, water bottles, or a necklace to give them tactile calming when they are feeling fearful.
- Acknowledge any brave behavior that you see, especially when these behaviors can serve as steps toward conquering a big fear. If your child has a fear of the water, but gleefully runs through a sprinkler on the lawn, praise their action, and point out the positives: “You ran through the sprinkler! Your face got wet and you are having so much fun! How does it feel?” Next time you are in the pool, remind them of how much fun it was to get wet in the sprinklers. It may help them feel brave enough to get their face in the water for the first time.
Ready When They’re Ready
Although we can encourage our kids, we cannot rush them to face a fear if they are not ready. A child who is afraid to ride a bicycle without training wheels will get there through consistent opportunities to try, without feeling shamed or “loved less” if they feel too scared. Above all, show your children of any age that you love and support them no matter what. And don’t we know that love can conquer anything? Even fear.