We all have something or many things we fear. I am afraid of sharks and am certain that if I go into the ocean, a great white will find me. To handle this, I simply stay out of the ocean which is an easy solution. Avoidance of something you fear is not always possible. Panic overtakes me when I think of flying and travel is part of my life. If you are sitting next to me on a plane you will see me grasping a charm with my eyes closed and reciting a prayer for the first 15 minutes of the flight. My faith also helps me with my fears about my children getting hurt or making good decisions. As we get older we learn how to deal with our fears (or not) or to bury them very deep.
It is a different story for our children. Childhood fears are developmentally normal. In a way they help to keep children safe by causing them to avoid some dangerous situations. From a very young age children can be afraid of a broad range of things from darkness, toilets, monsters, being alone, animals, some movies, separation, strangers, bad dreams, to weather, to name a few.
All of my children have been afraid of things from germs to darkness to strangers. Our recent struggle is with our daughter who is afraid to go downstairs to her bedroom alone; even for a moment. I have to admit, I was beginning to get frustrated with her fear. I needed to get to the bottom of it so I sat down with her to have a conversation. She began by telling me she was afraid of scary things. Digging a little deeper, I discovered she was afraid of a bad person, a stranger in her room. She had seen a show on TV where this happened and had started to dream about it. Now she says she thinks about it whenever she is alone in her room and especially when it’s dark. That night when it was time for bed, we looked in closets, under beds, in the garage, and in the hall closet near her room. I showed her that there were no strangers in any of those places. We made sure there was a flashlight by her bed if she needs to come to me at night. I am hoping this will help her to overcome her fears but realize it may take time and more steps.
Here are some general steps to help your child with their fears:
- Acknowledge their fears are real. Do not tell them that monsters are not real or that there’s nothing to be afraid of in the dark. Tell them something about your own fears.
- Do not make them feel ashamed of their fears. If you discount their fears, they may shut down and not share with you. You do not want them to be embarrassed.
- Share stories of fairy tales or heroes. Read them an age appropriate book about characters who overcame their fears. (As a starting point, try looking at the chapter on courage in The Book of Virtue: A Treasury of Great Moral Stories, ISBN: 0-671-68306-3, since it contains some selections for different ages with good introductions to each selection.) Watch a movie together that deals with putting fears to rest, maybe Monsters, Inc.
- Be honest.