Parenting with Joanne
Fear can be described as an unpleasant feeling caused by the warning of danger, harm or pain. Although children are not born with many fears, they develop a good number of them over the years that follow soon after birth. Some of the common fears found in children below the age of 5 is, fear of water, dark, monsters, insects, heights etc.
From an adult point of view, these fears can seem rather insignificant and we may take quite an indifferent attitude toward them, hoping and in some cases knowing, that our children will overcome them one day. While this may be very well true, the anxiety caused by fear can be quite overwhelming for a child which we can relieve to a large extent with a few easy to practice techniques.
- Talk about the fears
Words have the power to lessen the intensity of a child’s sensation of fear. When your child expresses or shows fear, try talking about it with your child, preferably while the instance is fresh in your child’s mind. Try and persuade your child to speak about his fear, rate it to learn that there are degrees of fear and that some aren’t as intense as others. This helps your child to understand that his unpleasant feelings are worth your time and that they are worth expressing. Also, by talking about a fear in detail, a child’s anxiety levels reduce to a great extent
- Never ridicule your child’s fear
It may come sometimes more as a reflex action rather than a planned one, to disregard the fear when a child expresses it, with words such as “don’t be silly, it’s just a cockroach’, ‘come on, the pool isn’t that deep, just get in’. Words such as these, however, can cause hurt, not to mention a lack of trust in adults who say them. Children may then begin to mask feelings of fear or develop shame for feeling fear which is a pile up of negative emotions you wouldn’t want to create
- Do not reinforce the fear
Once we as parents, come to understand that our children have developed particular fears, we may act in ways that anticipate and avoid fearful responses. Let me elaborate with an example, while taking a walk with your child, you see a dog approaching and you deliberately cross the road or carry your child, because of your knowledge about your child’s fear of dogs. This act of yours, although done with the basic maternal instinct serves as a reinforcement for your child with regard to his fear. He learns here, that you regard dogs as a danger too. And this new found knowledge only serves to deepen his fear.
Instead, if you were to continue walking while making sure that you and your child are at a safe distance while passing the dog, your child will learn that a dog at a distance doesn’t necessarily mean ‘run away’.
- Try a step by step approach
Psychologist have identified ‘flooding’ as a therapeutic method for persons with a particular kind of personality as a means of overcoming fear. However, in my opinion, for a child, a step by step approach always works best.
For instance, if your child shows a fear toward big water bodies, such as swimming pools, rivers and the sea, try helping him overcome in a gradual manner by first allowing him to watch the pool from a distance. Next, he can be encouraged to observe close up, touch the water while standing outside the pool, dip feet in and then slowly slide into the pool. This process may take days if not weeks, but it is a method that helps your child relieve anxiety in small portions, making him confident in the process.
- Teach coping strategies
In cases of extreme fear, it helps to teach your child coping strategies beforehand, such as counting 1 to 10 while focusing on good breathing. Such strategies help reduce the level of anxiety felt while experiencing fear and helps your child reach a point of calmness independently. Knowing that a child can on his own, control the level of fear he feels at a given point of time can be a liberating experience.
Joanne Sathyadass has a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Journalism, Psychology and English Literature from the University of Bangalore now serving as a Special Needs Educator
For any queries please email Joanne on firstname.lastname@example.org