Most of us have fears of some things. Children are no different. However, our children need us to help them to deal with their fears. If you have a fearful child, your response is very important if you want to help him when he is afraid.
• Never make fun of his fears.
• Certainly don’t shame him in front of others because of his fears.
• It won’t help to force him to “face” the thing he fears before he is ready unless you are very sure you are right to do so. (And you seldom will be.)
• Don’t become impatient and treat him as if he were babyish because he is afraid.
• Don’t assume that it is necessarily your fault, or his fault, that he is afraid.
• Remember that it isn’t bad or unnatural for him to have some fears.
If you respect his fears, he will outgrow most of them. Most children, when reassured about what they fear, let their fears go away. Some children continue to be concerned and fearful.
See if your child’s fears are a part of who he is. Some children are naturally hesitant about new situations. He might need help understanding what the new situation will be like. If he is the kind of child who needs to work into things gradually, allow some extra time in these early exploration years. Make allowances for who he is and give him some extra time to become accustomed to new situations.
Don’t make too big of an issue out of his fears but certainly listen to what he says and respect his feelings. Give reassuring comments such as, “That must have scared you.”
Cuddle him when it might help but wait for him to let go. Restrict television to appropriate shows, not those which can be quite scary. Every day give him many reasons to trust you and feel secure.
Read him some of the books that help him understand about fears — “Alfie and the Dark,” “Thornton the Worrier,” “Who’s Afraid of the Dark?” Read books yourself to see other ways to help him deal with fearful situations. But most importantly, spend time talking with him. That will probably help the most.
Most general books on parenting have sections on children’s fears and anxieties because this is such a common issue. But if his fear prevents him from enjoying life, seek some additional help for him.
Cynthia Martin is the founder of the First Teacher program and director of Parenting Matters Foundation, which publishes newsletters for parents, caregivers and grandparents. Reach Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 681-2250.