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Focus on the Family

Helping your children overcome their fears

By COLLEEN SHEMELEY

Just as your children grow and change, so do their fears. Monsters under the bed, thunderstorms or loud noises probably no longer cause your child to need your reassuring words and hugs.

Nine or 10-year-olds' most common anxieties are being kidnapped, parents divorcing, someone dying, fires, burglars, school failure and being a social outcast.

Psychologists have discovered that distinguishing between fear and anxiety is often difficult in children. Fear is a response to a situation (a neighbour's dog), while anxiety is being worried about something that hasn't happened yet (a shot at the doctor's office). Once parents realise this difference, they can better help their child cope.

The first and most important thing is to believe your child's fear. Talking about and affirming the existence of her fear will help your child. But be careful not to overtalk the fear or express your own fears. If your child doesn't want to discuss it, encourage her to write a fictional story about another person with the same fears or draw a picture of what could happen.

Fears can often be removed or reasoned through to a logical conclusion after evaluating reality. Make a plan of action if a mean dog comes too close. Practise on dolls the day before a visit to the dentist. The more independent your child feels, the smaller the fear can become.

Try to recognise your child's signs of anxiety in order to quickly help. Some children may become introverted. Others will misbehave, and still others will have sleeping problems, headaches or stomachaches.

Know the fine line between being a protective parent and being overprotective. Your child should feel safe but shouldn't be so insecure as to never want to be alone. Shielding unpleasant situations is part of a parent's responsibility, but children also must have the freedom to learn from their experiences and their mistakes.

If your child's anxiety repeatedly interrupts her daily life, consider consulting a counsellor, paediatrician for advice on minimising these heart-pounding fears.

This article was written by Focus on the Family Malaysia (www.family.org.my).