Helping children with their fears

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Almost all children can be frightened by the sound of thunder or become scared in a dark room. With a little patience and understanding, you can usually help your children overcome these and other common childhood fears. However, as a parent, you are keenly aware that there are real dangers that threaten your children. While you are working to help your children get rid of certain fears, you are also teaching certain other kinds of fear for their own protection.

Often children's fears grow out of experiences which they cannot understand and which seems to threaten them. Some of the things likely to cause fear are:

- Other people's reactions to things or events. An adult's reaction to a traumatic event (even people they see react on TV, another child's intense fear of snakes or an adult's horror at seeing a large spider can cause your child to fear the same things.

- Seeing a traumatic, frightening event. Your child may witness a bad traffic accident, a shooting or see a cat run over by a car. Scenes like these can leave lasting, fearful memories.

- Low self-esteem and lack of confidence. Fears can develop from low self-esteem and lack of confidence. It is important to encourage and praise your child's efforts and to develop his/her self-confidence.

- Ongoing family tensions and hostility. All families have fights once in a while, but if the fighting goes on all the time, children will absorb the tension, and fear and uncertainty will become part of their lives.

Overcoming Your Children's Fears

No matter what your child fears, he/she needs the comfort of loving reassurance more than anything. You should never make fun of your child's fears, and you should let him/her know that grown-ups, too, are sometimes afraid. Other things you can do are:

- Give loving support and reliable limits. Your child needs to know he/she is loved and also that you set definite limits on what he/she is allowed to do. Your love and those limits provide the sense of security your child needs to try new experiences without fear.

- Try to find practical solutions. If your child is afraid of the dark, plug in a night-light in the bedroom and hall. Keep the furniture arranged in a way your child is used to, and make sure he/she goes to sleep with a cuddly toy to hug.

- Spend time practicing skills with your child. If your child is afraid of catching a ball or playing a game such as soccer, spend time playing games at home in a safe environment.

- Help build a sense of being in control. Some children become afraid of flushing the toilet or emptying the bathtub. Encourage your child to pull the plug or turn the toilet handle with you, and reassure him/her that "there is no way you can go down the drain."

- Reassure, reassure, and then reassure again. This is especially important if your child begins to worry about dying. He/she needs to hear many times that it is very unusual for children to die. Try a hug and a reminder, "Don't worry; we'll be together for a long, long time."

- Praise accomplishments, avoid criticizing. Praising even small successes will encourage your child to try again. Too much criticizing is likely to make your child insecure and afraid to try new things.

Real Dangers Your Children Face

Your children must be taught about the very real dangers that do exist. These dangers can be divided into two kinds:

- Basic safety problems - You must teach your children safety rules about hazards in the home, such as hot stove tops, electrical outlets and various household poisons. Outside the home, children must learn how to ride a bicycle and cross the street safely, and many other safety habits.

- Dangerous people - Unfortunately, your children face the danger of abduction and sexual abuse by dangerous people. Some may be strangers, but more commonly, they can be relatives or acquaintances.

The challenge for you as the parent is to teach your children to be self-confident and ready to cope with new situations, but also to be cautious of potentially dangerous situations.

Continued next week


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Carla Bush
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