Having a child that is afraid of something, or anxious and fearful in general, can make you want to do anything to help ease their fears. However, it’s important to ease their fears in the right way, otherwise, you risk making them even more fearful.
As a parent, nothing is harder than seeing my child afraid or scared. My first instinct is to tell them everything will be okay. But, experts warn against that, because in doing so, you are invalidating their emotions. With that being said, the following tips are what experts say will help your children the most to overcome their fears and to at the very least find peace.
1. Be understanding.
Rather than shutting them down, be understanding. Kids don’t want to be fearful, and it’s likely they have a reason for their fear, even if it doesn’t make sense to you.
2. Calm them down, in an empathetic way.
Work to calm them, without shutting them down. Let them know you understand where their fear is coming from while reassuring them that there is no need to fear.
3. Be supportive.
Be supportive of them. Don’t leave their side, and be there for them. Make sure they know that you 100% have their back and are there for them.
4. Don’t increase their fears by encouraging them to avoid them.
Don’t give into allowing them to use avoidance tactics. For example, if they say, “I am afraid to go back to school,” be understanding, while explaining they have to face their fear.
5. Ease them into facing their fears, don’t push them.
Slowly ease them into facing their fear. If they don’t want to go to school, because of a specific person or situation, talk to their teacher. Find out why, and do whatever you can to ease their fears.
6. Talk things out, rationally.
Talk to them, listen to them, and explain things to them rationally. Don’t disregard their fears, but explain to them why there is nothing to fear and explain to them that they are supportive, loved, and protected.
7. Don’t overly reassure.
But, reassurance can be a fine line, so don’t overly reassure them. The point is to empathize, not to encourage them to be fearful by making them think the world is a scary place. If you do so, they may develop a phobia.
8. Allow them to explain.
Allow them to explain what their fear is if they can and why they are fearful. Hear them out, and look at it from their point of view. If they can’t explain, let them express their emotions.
9. Be patient.
Don’t get impatient with them, or force them to stop being fearful. Make sure not to belittle them, or make them feel silly for not understanding. Give them time and work with them.
10. Be mindful of your responses.
Sometimes, our responses can reinforce their fears. Dr. Busman, a Psy.D and clinical psychologist who works at the Anxiety Disorder Center at the Child Mind Institute explain, “Sometimes parents convey a message of, ‘You can’t handle what’s out there in the world.” Examples of this are when you are walking with them, and you see something that could potentially startle them, and you react before giving them a chance. “Oh no! There’s a doggy, are you scared?” Try to avoid doing this, or doing anything that could make them fearful.
11. Utilize counseling.
If all other tactics fail, use counseling to reinforce the work you have done with your little one. Sometimes, it can be helpful to have a mediator who is trained to work with children about their anxieties and their fears. Especially, if your attempts don’t seem to be working.