Fears and Phobias: How to help your kid manage them

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As parents, how can you make sure your kid feels safe and secure enough not to be overcome by fears that follow them into adulthood?

Experiencing fear and anxiety is a natural part of growing up. It is a child's response to their ever changing surroundings; it is a way of relating to what they don't understand. With proper guidance and encouragement, parents can help kids deal with these fears in a healthy way, helping them to eventually outgrow them.

But what if these seemingly harmless anxieties persist and follow them as they grow up? This is when problems can happen, as holding on to fears can cause them to evolve into phobias. A phobia is defined as an "extreme and persistent" often irrational fear.

Here's how to start determining how to help make sure your child's fears do not get in the way of their healthy development.

  • First, determine if it's normal for their stage of development. Examples of age-appropriate fears for toddlers are being afraid of the dark or being wary of strangers.
  • Next, it would also help to pinpoint the symptoms of the fear and how it affects their life. What sets them off? Does it hinder their ability to perform academically or respond socially?
  • Is the fear understandable within certain contexts or is it signaling a deeper problem?
  • If the same patterns persist, perhaps it's time to consult a school counselor or psychologist to help you better understand your child's needs at this stage.

photo: dreamstime

Once you've addressed these concerns, it would also help to consider following these tips to help your child manage their fears and anxieties.

Acknowledge the fear as real

It may seem silly or simple to you as an adult, but it's important to validate your child's feelings when it comes to what causes them fear. Being able to talk about it with someone who believes them can help ease anxiety.

Do not belittle it

Avoid belittling their fears by saying how simple it is to just overcome it. Negating their fears won't help, too, and it will only cause your kids to become frustrated.

Don't encourage avoidance

Try to expose your child to fear gently to help them overcome it. Make sure to be there to guide them! For instance, if your child is afraid of clowns, try to show them how friendly they can be by interacting with them like you would a normal person.

Assure them you are there

While exposing them to things that cause fear and showing them there is nothing to be afraid of is important, it's also as vital to reassure them that you are there every step of the way. Do not pressure them to instantly get over fears and be patient with them.

Teach them how to rate their fear

Determining how scared they are can help you both gauge just how big of a problem it's becoming. Take a feared object and ask them to visualize the amount of fear it gives them. Does seeing dogs give them a fear "up to their knees" or as "high as their chests"?

Equip them with coping strategies

Encourage your child to interact with a feared object, while reminding them they can always run back to you for safety. Teach them to state self-affirming positive statements like, "I can do this" or "I will be fine" whenever they feel fear building. Deep breathing and other relaxation techniques can also help them calm down.

With these coping mechanisms, kids can have a better handle on their fears, so that they can keep it from taking control over their state of mind and emotions, improving their chances of having a more fun and worry-free childhood.

sources: Kid's Health, HealthyChildren.org, AnxietyCare.org

READ: First day of school fears: How to make it better for you and your child

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