Fear is a natural part of childhood.
As parents, we need to allow our kiddos to embrace and conquer it independently. This doesn’t mean we can’t be supportive, but there’s a delicate balance to be struck.
Start by understanding childhood fears.
First off, there’s a difference between normal childhood fears and abnormal childhood anxieties. Fears are generally temporary and are eventually outgrown. On the other hand, some kids experience anxiety disorders that “first appear in childhood,” but stick with them through adulthood. If you feel your kiddo may have anxiety, it’s a good idea to contact a childhood therapist to tackle the issue.
Today, though, let’s focus on those normal, temporary fears.
Normal childhood fears morph from infancy, beginning with newborn fears of loud noises and progress to fears of strangers, separation from parents, the dark, and supernatural creatures — the monster under the bed!
As your kid grows, they’ll begin fearing realities such as a “death in the family, failure in school, and events in the news.” Once they reach adolescents, you’ll be dealing with full fledged adult fears such as “sexual and social anxieties” and even concerns about the future or the world at large.
Fear is going to be a staple of your kiddos life, so let’s learn management techniques!
Teach your kiddo “how to manage his fears without parental intervention,” also called self-regulation.
Self-regulation is a life skill that allows us to “process and manage our own emotions and behaviors in a healthy way.” In short, as a parent, you need to get comfortable with your kiddo being slightly uncomfortable at times.
Try a few of these techniques to help our kiddo build self-regulation skills!
Put Fear into Words. Communication is a key ingredient for growth. Your kiddo knows what frightens them, but they may not understand how to voice that fear. Focus on specific questions about the fear, what it is, and how it manifests.
Recognize, Validate, Move On. Be careful not to underestimate your kiddos fear. Just because you don’t think it’s scary, doesn’t mean it’s not real for them! Validate their experience, make sure they feel heard and supported, then move on. Dwelling on fear can reinforce its reality instead of diminish it.
Create Fear-Conquering Goals. If your kiddo has a reoccurring fear — let’s say they are afraid of the dark — then make a plan that phases your parental support out of the equation. On night one, turn off the light and stay until they fall asleep. On night two, turn off the light, turn on a nightlight, and leave the door open. On night three, turn off the light and turn on a nightlight, but close the door. On night four, turn off the light and close the door.
Encourage with Patience and Consistency. Fear is powerful! Provide consistent praise for even the smallest of victories over their fear. Whether it’s a moment of bravery or fully conquering the fear, your kiddo should receive positive reinforcement.