Fear is natural, sometimes a good thing because it is a response to an entity or a situation that may pose harm. Everyone experiences fear whether it is of falling from a high point or of spiders.
Should Parents Be Afraid of Childhood Fears?
When it is kids who experience it, however, especially if it is about something irrational, it can be frustrating. It is usually nothing to worry about. Childhood fears are part of growing up and discovering the world.
In fact, in one study, researchers found that nearly half of all children between the ages of 6 and 12 have many fears.
However, sometimes, fear can disrupt the sleep of children, prevent them from enjoying experiences, and lead to unpleasant physical symptoms such as sweating, trembling, nausea, chills, chest pain, shortness of breath, and increased heart rate.
Sometimes, the causes of fear among children are inherited. It occurs when a parent shows immense fear around the child because of a spider, for example. Seeing this may teach the child to fear spiders, too.
More often, it can be traced back to a bad experience such as a painful dental procedure with a dentist who does not have a background in caring for kids. A kids’ dentist, who is friendly and knows how to assure an anxious young patient, would prevent this particular phobia that, unfortunately, is very common.
What can parents do when their child is experiencing excessive fear? Here are a few options to consider.
Hear Them Out
Nothing good will happen by dismissing childhood fear. While a dark closet does not look threatening to an adult, it frightens a kid at night. It prevents them from falling asleep faster. They would not get the recommended eight hours of sleep and feel tired during the day, affecting their performance at school, interactions with friends, and their safety.
Do not brush them off by saying that there is nothing to be worried about. It will not stop them from feeling scared. They will only feel alone. So, instead, discuss it and understand why they are afraid. Sometimes, the child may not have the right words to explain why they are scared. Asking questions that draw out specific answers might help. For example, ask them what they imagine would happen if their parent steps out of their eyesight for a second. Repeat their answers back to them.
Teach Them to Think Realistically
When you know why they are scared, then encourage them to become a “thought detective.”
A thought detective is a person who calms their anxiety by examining their own thinking and, eventually, realizing that there is nothing to be afraid of. There are three steps to becoming a thought detective:
First, identify a negative thought. For example, a child may be worried that their parents may not come back if they go out of the house.
Second, collect the evidence that either supports or negates the negative thought. Parents go to the store regularly and come back all the time. They are never hurt or scared whenever they get home.
Third, convince the mind that the negative thoughts are baseless. This will entail a mental debate, where the mind argues with itself to either keep the fear or to finally stop worrying about it. With all the evidence against the negative thought, this step should convince the child that it is incorrect and, therefore, they should relax.
Expose Them to the Fear Gradually
To treat phobias, many therapists use a process called desensitization. By exposing the person suffering from extreme fear, in this case, a child, to their trigger in a safe space, they will start to feel unafraid.
For example, a child who is scared of dogs can start by looking at photographs and watching videos of puppies and friendly dogs. Once they start to become comfortable with it, they can watch a friendly dog from behind the window or from afar. The child can then move on to be in the same room with a puppy or a friendly dog, but a parent or a guardian should also be present. Eventually, they might get the courage to move closer and pet the dog,
The process is used for people who experience phobias, and it is very effective because it creates past experiences that are pleasant or where nothing happens. The mind is convinced that the source of the fear is not a threat at all.
Most childhood fears go away naturally in time but, if it persists, parents should schedule a visit to a child psychologist. Rarely, medication may be given to calm the fear.