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Helping Your Child Cope with Fears

Dr. Kawthar Hameed Abdullah

Ed.D Educational Psychology and Special Education

Uncomfortable as they may feel, fears can be useful. They protect and help keep children out of danger. A problem that can arise, is that oftentimes fears get in a child’s way of fully experiencing the world around them. They can limit explorations and discourage healthy risk-taking, the things that give children a fuller life and help them expand their experiences and knowledge.

Parents, teachers, and caregivers can help children cope with their fears by doing the following:

1. Taking their fears seriously: What may not seem significant or important to an adult may be terrifying to a child. It is necessary for the parent or teacher to be assuring without discounting the child’s feelings. Children need their feelings validated, even when the adult is convinced there is no danger present. For example, Instead of saying, “Oh come on, that wasn’t scary!” try saying “ Wow, it sounds like you were really scared.” Or “ I know a lot of kids worry about that.”

2. Asking Questions: Children may know what they’re scared of, but don’t always have the right words to explain their fears. Asking specific questions can help them. For example, if a child is afraid of dogs you can ask, “What makes dogs so scary?” “ Did a dog scare you and knock you over?” Once you have an idea of what your child is afraid of and why- you will have a clearer idea of how to help him/her work through it.

3. Modeling.: Children can learn fears from other people. They can also learn to not be afraid by watching others interact with the object of their fear. The child who is afraid of cats may be reassured when both an adult and another child pet or play with the cat in a friendly, trusting way.

4. Playing out fears: Sometimes the parent or teacher can find ways for the child to experience something in a safe environment that he or she is afraid of. Sometimes children will do this on their own through pretend play, either in a dramatic play setting or with small figures. Another example of playing out fears is when an adult encourages a toddler to play with a small amount of water in a dishpan or sink to cope with bathtub fears.

5. Visualization: Helping children visualize themselves being brave in situations that scare them also can be beneficial for helping them overcome or deal with fears.

6. Role play with other children: Having children help other children cope with fears is a helpful technique. The teacher may send a gentle, outgoing child over to interact with a fearful child who could be afraid of the doctor. Having the children role-play can help the child overcome his fear of doctors.

Most children cope with normal fears with gentle support from both parents and teachers. As they grow, they get over fears they had at a younger age.

Some children may have a harder time and need more help with fears. If fears are extreme or keep a child from doing normal daily activities, it might be a sign of an anxiety disorder.

Talk to your doctor if your child's fears:

  • Seem extreme and last past the normal age

  • Cause your child to be very upset or have a melt-down

  • Keep your child from doing things- such as going to school, sleeping alone, or being apart from you

  • Cause physical symptoms such as stomachaches, headaches, vomiting, breathlessness, or dizziness.

Dr. Kawthar Hameed Abdullah is an educational psychologist and special educational specialist. She holds an Ed.D in both educational psychology and special education. She has over 25 years experience working with children with different educational, intellectual, and emotional challenges.

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