Loving ways you can help kids overcome their fears
posted by: Elissa Sungar
“Mommy!! Monsters are under my bed!!” Our creative and knowledge hungry preschoolers are constantly exploring, being exposed to new things and developing new skills. All of these exciting and new things are wonderful for development and can encourage a very active imagination.
However, these new things, ideas and images, combined with an active imagination can create fear and anxiety. Fears and anxiety in preschoolers are completely normal and can take anywhere from six- twelve months for them to be overcome.
Typically, your child’s fear will fit into one of these three categories:
1) Specific Things- spiders, the dark, monsters in the room, the neighbor’s dog etc.
2) New Situations- new daycare, new people, new events etc..
3) Being Hurt- covering their “boo-boos,” being embarrassed when they receive even minor scrap or cut.
Some children will immediately vocalize to you or another adult what they are feeling fearful of, whereas other children might be less vocal. If you notice your child having difficulty sleeping, sleeping too much, backtracking on potty training or a sudden increase of aggressive behavior these can be signs that a child is experiencing a new fear or feeling of anxiety.
As parents and educators there are ways to help the child work through their fears or anxiety in a healthy way.
- Encourage your child to talk about their fear and how they are feeling. Have them describe their fear and what makes them scared. This will help them process, and help you figure out ways to help them work past their fears.
- Try not to laugh or crack a smile when the child voices their fear. Instead validate what they are saying, “ I understand you’re afraid of spiders, let’s try and find a way to make you feel better”.
- Stay away from phrases like, “Don’t be scared.: This may make the child feel foolish and they will avoid facing and overcoming fear.
- Are they being exposed to media that might be encouraging these fears? If so, remove those television shows, videos or computer games that are instilling fear.
Once the child is acknowledging and talking about their fears, here are some ways to help the child cope and hopefully overcome them.
- Problem solve together. Spraying “Monster Potion” together before bed, or simply placing a flashlight next to their bed might ease bedtime/darkness fears. Children often have some of their own ideas, so ask!
- A “love object”, or something comforting from home may also work in easing anxiety, especially if the child is fearful of new situations, people or events. Try having them bring their favorite stuffed animal or blanket and then slowly backing off of it as the child gets more comfortable. Placing the blanket in the backpack, then in the hall etc.
- Gradually increase their exposure to the fear. Sleeping with the light on, then a night light, followed by a flashlight next to the bed is a way of easing your child into falling asleep in a dark room., that they were previously afraid of.
- Read together. Lots of children’s book address common fears. Reading these books with your child will help them become more associated with their fear, which in turn will help them manage and solve better on their own.Here are some favorites. Ask your local public librarian to help you find specific books to fit your child’s needs.
1) “Who Feels Scared? A Book about Being Afraid” By Sue Graves
2) “ The Berenstain Bears in the Dark” By Stan Berenstain
3) “ Brave Little Monster” By Ken Baker
4) “The Giraffe Who Was Afraid of Heights” By David A. Ufer
5) “How Do Dinosaurs Get Well Soon?” By Jane Yolen
It is normal for children to experience some fears or anxiety during their preschool years. Most likely these are created by their overactive imaginations and will subside in six-twelve months. The type of fear or anxiety they experience will differ from child to child and so will how the child handles and overcomes their fears- this is a personalized process. Be patient and keep trying different techniques until you find the right one for your child.
Elissa Sungar is the Co-Creator of If Not You, Who? a free website that offers easy and fun in-home educational activities that help prepare children for kindergarten and life. Her passion for early childhood education grew out of her experience as a pre-school teacher at Stanford University’s Bing Nursery School. Elissa loves hiking, running, tennis, yoga, cute workout clothes, good cheese, great baked goods and exploring Denver! Twitter: @ElissaINYW