Conquering the "Fear Gremlin"

It's quite common for kids to have fears but parents should be aware of how to handle them. Photo:  Capture Queen via Flickr.It's quite common for children to have fears. Some don't like climbing up the jungle gym at the park. Some don't like the water and refuse to go swimming. Others can't settle down at night because they're afraid of the dark or monsters.  Parents are not always well equipped to help children conquer their fears. While it's not our job to protect them from every discomfort in life, we can help them navigate it with greater confidence. Children usually outgrow their fears and the coping strategies we teach can benefit them for life. Some signs that a child might be overly anxious include:  clinginess, nervous movements such as temporary twitches, problems getting to sleep, sweaty hands, nausea, headaches and stomachaches.

Here are some tips for helping children deal with fears:
1. Never negate, minimize, laugh at or judge the fears. They are very real to children.
2. Talk about fears and verify what the children are feeling.  Say something like, "So what you're telling me is that you're afraid that if you walk on the grass a bug might crawl up your leg and bite you?" Sometimes, having the parent understand the feeling can be enough to lessen the fear.
3. Be careful to not feed into the fear. For example, don't suggest that you avoid walking on grass for this will merely reinforce the belief that insects should be avoided. Instead provide support and gentle care as they approach grass (or the feared object).
4. With your child, explore possibilities for managing the problem. It is important that you do this together because if you jump in and fix it you send a message that only you can solve problems. If you've got young children try exposing them gently to the feared object. They can venture out towards it, then come back to you (the safe zone) before going towards it again.
5. Teach your children positive self-talk. Statements like "I think I can" and "I can do this" can be a source of strength.
6. Teach relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and visualization. Kids can imagine themselves floating up in the air like a bird gliding above the earth leaving all their fears behind them. Then slowly, they can be taught to glide back down to earth feeling calm and in control.
7. Help your children to rate their fear on a scale of 1-5. If the fear is insurmountable they can give it a 5, but if it's only a bit scary it could count as a 1 or 2. This helps them feel they have some control over the fear and not the other way around.
8. Help children take baby steps in managing the fears. For example, the child who is afraid of the dark might find having a flashlight next to the bed helpful. Different from a night light, a hand held flashlight empowers the child to begin the process of conquering the fear.

In the book Positive Discipline A-Z authors Nelsen, Lott and Glenn offer parents ideas for preventing future problems. Here are some of them:
1. Find children's books that deal with children's fears so that they don't feel they are alone.
2. If your children seem overly fearful, be careful to not push them into doing something before they are ready. Instead, through open dialog, help them to take small steps in conquering the fear.
3. Feel free to share stories of how you conquered a fear as a child. This will help them to know that being afraid is normal and that they don't need to immobilized by their feelings.
4. If your child is afraid of a new situation suggest that they try it out two or three time before deciding against it.

By Terry Carson| April 08, 2011
Categories:  Blog

About the Author

Terry Carson

Terry Carson

Terry Carson is an educator and mother of four. A popular resource as a parenting coach expert throughout North America, she’s been featured repeatedly in the media including The Globe and Mail, Today’s Parent, Planet Parent, Save Us From Our House, Breakfast Televison, Yummy Mummy and countless radio shows and publications.

Terry helps her parent clients get back their control without spanking or shouting. Her most popular workshop, You’re Not The Boss of Me!, provides seventeen strategies to get rid of whining, not listening, complaining, temper tantrums, and other power struggles. For more information on Terry and her workshops, visit:

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