Calming Kids' Fears
Updated: Oct 21, 2020
No More Bumps in the Night (Part 1)
Whether it’s a scary movie, a monster under the bed or something bigger like the current global situation, giving your kids the tools to cope and conquer their fears is one of the most important things you can do. We spoke with Sarah Haas, a psychotherapist based in Singapore, to find out how to help kids manage fear.
Sarah tells us that fear comes from not knowing or understanding—the more kids know, the less they will be afraid. The trick is to help children gain understanding in developmentally appropriate ways, because even though kids are resilient, we don’t want to push their resilience if we don’t need to. You wouldn’t, for example, let a child watch an R-rated movie just to make them stronger, but you can, and should, let them make mistakes to help them grow and gain understanding.
Begin With Prevention
Conquering fears starts by having the tools to prevent them. Sarah offers four strategies for developing tools your kids can use throughout their lives.
Build Independence. The most important way to give children self-confidence is to develop independence. When kids are dependent on their parents for everything—picking out clothes, getting to school on time, remembering their schedules—kids feel helpless and lack confidence to deal with even simple obstacles. Starting young—allowing a two-year-old to pick out their own clothes or go to the potty on their own—builds capabilities and confidence necessary to get through bigger obstacles. For older children, allow them to go to the store alone, be responsible for their own homework, or make a meal once a week. It’s a continual process with many small steps that should celebrated along the way.
Limit Exposure. There is adult stuff and there is kid stuff. Video, music, and game ratings exist for a reason. Books and toys are labelled as age-appropriate because we know what kids are capable of handling. Kids don’t have the capacity to process adult material, so parents should try to limit exposure to it.
Be Honest. Open and honest communication is critical. Fearful children should feel like they can go to a parent with questions and concerns. Your job is to answer in a way they can understand. The unknown is scary; providing information or a frame of reference helps calm fears. You know your kids best and know what language and vocabulary they can handle. Speak in terms they understand while giving them manageable facts.
Model Behaviour. We are teachers for our children. We have to continually check our own feelings and behaviours because they are always watching us. How do we deal with scary things? Is the current situation making us more stressed out and unable to cope? Are we using techniques to help address this increased anxiety? Our kids see when we use healthy coping skills (breathing or meditation) versus unhealthy skills (wine or overeating). Anxiety radiates and leads to more anxiety. If we want to avoid our kids absorbing those emotions, we need to learn how to manage ourselves.
No matter what preventative measures you take, something sometime is going to scare your child or cause anxiety. And that’s ok. When that happens, it’s important for kids to learn how to manage their fears and take some control over them. Learn how in Part 2.