Helping Children Handle Fears: Dr. Brad’s TV Interview and Tips
Children and Fears, by Dr. Brad Schwall
Children at different stages develop fears, such as fears of animals, the dark, or getting hurt. Fears are a normal part of development and an opportunity for children to learn skills for handling their feelings.
Show the child you understand the fear. “I know that dogs can seem scary.”
Express that the child can make choices to stay safe. “It is good to be cautious, but dogs can be fun and safe to pet.”
Show your child how to cope with the fear. Create a safe, controlled environment for the child to learn to cope with the fear. For example, show your child how to ask the dog’s owner if it is OK to pet the dog, approach the dog, and pet the dog gently. “It is good to ask the owner of dogs if it is OK to pet them and to treat dogs gently.”
Emphasize Positive Outcomes
Point out when a situation was handled successfully. “That was great how you asked if you could pet the dog. The dog really liked how you were petting him.”
What Not to Do
- Don’t put down or deny the feeling.
- Don’t push the child to face his or her fear too quickly. Gradually guide him or her to learn to cope.
- Don’t joke about scary things introducing fear.
- Don’t make going to a counselor a threat. Do seek help when the fear interferes with your child’s normal functioning.
Children learn how to be courageous best by understanding their feelings and feeling empowered to face those fears out of confidence rather than coercion or pressure.