How to Dismantle Fears in Children
Fear is a physiological response to a stimuli that we sense as dangerous. But if it occurs in a situation that isn't actually dangerous, it becomes a problem. In this article, we'll talk about how to dismantle fears in children.
It’s very common for children to experience different fears, and these will vary according to age. However, there are times when these fears get in the way of their day-to-day lives. Below, we’ll take a look at some suggestions that may be helpful when it comes to how to dismantle fears in children.
To overcome what we consider an irrational fear, it’s best not to avoid it or run away from it. Rather, it’s important to face these fears, take them apart, and confront the thoughts that produce the fear with reality.
Fear has its positive side and its negative side. Do you want to know why? How can we, as parents, help to dismantle fears in children? We invite you to continue reading to find out all this and more.
First of all, it’s important to know the difference between fears, phobias, and anxiety.
- Fear. Our body reacts with fear in the face of certain situations. This is normal and even positive because it helps us stay safe from something that’s potentially dangerous.
- Phobia. This is when fear turns into something irrational that interferes significantly in the life of those who experience it.
- Anxiety. The reasons for anxiety are more unclear and there’s no concrete cause. Those who suffer from this condition may become anxious and uncertain in the face of any situation.
How do children learn their fears?
Normally, children aren’t born feeling afraid. Rather, they acquire fears over the course of their childhood and, many times, their parents have somewhat of an influence. For example, when you scream things like: “Don’t go by that dog or he’ll bite you!” – your child is more likely to become afraid of dogs. Therefore, it’s important to be careful with our words and phrases we use because they can produce childhood fears.
We also need to be careful when it comes to showing insecurity when it comes to our own fears. When children see that their role models are afraid, they’ll learn to be afraid in the same situations.
Is it good to be afraid?
Fear is something that’s completely normal. It refers to a physiological response to a stimuli or dangerous situation. This stimuli prepares the body for flight, increasing your heart rate and causing you to breathe faster. At the same time, your muscles tense up. Why? the body’s getting ready to run away from something that puts your wellbeing at risk.
When does this become a problem? When children are afraid of something that isn’t actually dangerous. For example, they’re afraid of the dark, or ghosts, etc. This is what’s known as an irrational fear, and the physiological response that these fears produce are erroneous.
Can we educate through fear?
We shouldn’t use fear itself as a means of educating our children. However, it’s important to explain to them that some situations can be dangerous. For example, crossing the street on their own, without looking, or when cars are coming. At the same time, we need to warn our children not to accept gifts from strangers, etc. But, when doing so, we should avoid using the word “fear.”
Therefore, avoid using phrases like “you should be afraid of strangers” or “be afraid to cross the street,” etc. Rather, say things like “You should always be careful when you cross the street,” etc.
- From 6 months to 2 years. Before the age of 6 months, experts have observed that children don’t experience fear, per se. Except, of course, the fear of being away from their parents or of being with strangers.
- Between the ages of 2 and 6. Here, children begin to feel afraid of imaginary beings, ghosts, monsters, etc. It’s the age where phobias begin to develop, especially regarding animals.
- Between the ages of 7 and 11. During this time period, the fear of imaginary beings disappears. However, children begin to develop fears regarding everyday life. For example, accidents, medical treatments, etc.
- Between the ages of 12 and 14. During this stage of preadolescence, we observe more fears regarding social relationships. Children may be afraid of having no friends, failing at school, not fitting in with their peer group, etc.
- Between the ages of 15 and 18. On top of the previously mentioned social fears, teens also experience fears regarding personal relationships or not being able to succeed at sports or in other areas or interest.
It’s crucial that parents see their parents – their role models – as confident, because this makes them feel safe.
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it… The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
– Nelson Mandela –
Don’t prevent children from facing their fears
By sheltering children from whatever they’re afraid of, you’ll only be feeding into their fears. Therefore, we shouldn’t allow children to shy away from situations that cause them fear. But, how do we do this?
- Helping them gradually face the situation they’re afraid of.
- Giving them tools and resources to let them face their fears.
- Standing by them as a role model and offering them security.
Don’t scold children regarding their fears
Don’t get angry or yell at children for being afraid just because you think it’s silly. Explain that it’s normal to feel afraid and that they don’t need to be embarrassed. But, at the same time, reassure them that the situation isn’t actually dangerous.
Analyze the situation they’re afraid of
Teach them to analyze whatever scares them and remind them that there’s no reason to be afraid of certain things. Remind them that they might be afraid simply because something’s unfamiliar.
Teach them ways to calm themselves down
Teach children breathing or relaxation techniques that they can use when they feel afraid. Also, offer them rational alternatives that they can think about if their fear is irrational.
Now you know how fear works and what you can do to dismantle fears in children. Remember, if you apply these techniques and children continue to experience an irrational fear, then it could turn into a phobia. In this case, it’s important to consult a specialist.