Childhood Fears and Anxieties
Experts describe how parents can help when their child is afraid.
How can you help your child with fears like these?
At any age, break the challenge into small steps, says Chanksy. She suggests
tackling that big, dark cave of a closet by turning it into something fun and
positive. "By creating a competing emotion," she says, "you help
burn out the anxiety." Be creative, says Chansky: Go into the dark and read
a book by flashlight. Make five goofy faces, and get out right away. Play 20
questions. This all gets your child into a different frame of mind. Practice
often, for the best results.
Dogs are another big fear for preschoolers, says Chansky. Dogs are often
big, loud jumpers -- not a good combination for small ones.
Again, Chansky suggests approaching the fear in steps. Resist the temptation
either to overprotect or to prompt with, "It's fine, come on!" says
Chansky. Instead, give your child opportunities for direct, safe experiences.
Talk to a dog's owner and ask, "Is the dog friendly? Can we say 'hi'?"
suggests Chansky. "Or, ask your child, 'Is the dog's tail wagging? That's
the sign of a happy dog.'" If you have a friend with a dog, let the
"sleeping dog lie" -- and let your child observe. That allows a safe
entrÃ©e to the world of dogs.
Through her research, Lagattuta has learned that children as young as 3 or 4
may know that anticipating the future can cause worry.
"They understand that negative thoughts can make you feel bad before
they understand that positive thoughts can help you feel good, which happens
around age 7," she says. Despite this awareness, young preschoolers lack
the attentive powers to redirect their thoughts, which may explain why trying
to talk your young child out of her fears is unproductive. With her own
4-year-old, Lagattuta used a more tangible aid -- having her child draw
pictures in a "happy journal," to which she added words as she got
Easing Fears in School-Aged Children
An explosion of knowledge and experience during the school years introduces
children to more real-world dangers: fire drills, burglars, storms, and wars.
Realism begins to set in.
Don't always assume you know the precise source of your child's fears,
however. If your child shuns public pools, is it really the water and drowning
she's afraid of? Or, is it the lifeguard's whistle? The only way to know is to
With younger children, you can draw them out -- literally. Have them draw
two pictures: One is a picture of themselves in the scary situation with a
thought "worry bubble" that tells what they're thinking about
themselves. Then have them draw a second picture of themselves in the same
situation, but with a "smart bubble" that has calmer, more realistic
A child who's afraid of a teacher's rejection might say, "The teacher
will send me to the principal if I forget my homework." But the "smart
bubble" might say, "My friend, Alex, did forget his homework and
the teacher only asked him to write himself a reminder."