FEARS CAN BE TRICKY
It can be tricky to figure out if your child is developing a fear. Adams says all children experience fear at some point due to their limited ability to understand the complexity of the world. Some common fears, for example, infants or toddlers can fear strangers, new faces, separation. For preschoolers, it can be imaginary creatures, the dark, loud noises. For older children, it can be fear of physical danger, bodily injury, school performance, social affairs, death and illness.
TECHNIQUES THAT HELP
“To help kids and these fears it is very important to acknowledge the fear and not to belittle it or exaggerate it,” Adams says.
“Children can be susceptible to learning fear from their parents. So it is important to be a positive role model.”
When offering advice to parents, Adams says she tries to get to the root cause of the fear. For example, around the holidays, there can be times when children get scared.
“It is very common to be afraid of Santa and other characters,” she says. “A fear of Santa has to do with the fear of a stranger.
Reassure them that you will protect them and will not let anything or anyone harm them. Respect the child’s reaction to the characters and do not force them to spend time or visit Santa directly. Slowly introduce him to help them be prepared ahead of time. Understanding why they are afraid, accepting the fear, discuss Santa with excitement and be patient with your child.” Adams also recommends guided imagery. Some people understand guided imagery as going to their “happy place.” The point is to distract them by occupying their mind with something else, something they like.
In younger children, you could use a technique Adams calls the “worry box,” where you write down some of the fears or worries a child has and put it in a box. You might decide to decorate the box to make it more fun or you can simply use an old shoebox. Once it goes in the box, the stress, the worry, and the fear goes away.
DEVELOPING FEARS FROM MEDIA
Adams says children develop fears through reading, hearing about, or seeing frightening events in person or in media. She recommends having a family media plan.
“There are ways that parents can help kids avoid these and be proactive,” she says. “The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has wonderful resources on how to create one if you need guidance.”
She notes some of AAP key aspects are to monitor what your children are watching, reading or are exposed to – respect age appropriate viewing guidelines. Also, help your child choose media that is age appropriate with positive heroes and heroins. Watch, read and discuss media together. Co-viewing can help you discuss right away anything that may seen as disturbing or scary to the child.
“Parents can acknowledge the fear – it is important your child feels comfortable expressing their fears and not hide them, Adams says.
“Talk about their fears and help them cope and confront them because fears that are not confronted can persist” she adds. “Reassure and educate your children about what they read, heard or saw and set realistic expectations of understanding.
If they are younger just reassurance may be enough while older children may need more of an explanation.”
WHEN TO GET ADDITIONAL HELP
A fear can be problematic if it affects your child’s daily function. If you feel the fear is becoming more serious and is interfering with their normal function, talk to your pediatrician
For more information, visit akronchildrens.org