The instinct to be fearful is something we all have engrained in us. It’s a leftover of evolution, when we had to fear everything because we didn’t know better. Even now in the modern age, certain things can ping our brain and make us feel like we need to run for the hills.
While we might battle with these as adults, trying to tell ourselves we’re being silly, it’s a lot more difficult for kids. They just don’t have the previous frame of reference. They can’t tell themselves: “I’ve met multiple clowns that haven’t killed me, so this one is going to be fine!” if they haven’t met a lot of clowns before. So they are scared and we, as their parents, feel that fear alongside them.
Except we don’t fear the thing they are afraid of – we fear the impact of the fear on their lives. If a child is reluctant to do something or go somewhere because of their fear levels, then that might result in them missing out on all of the wonders the world has to offer. So how can we help them move on?
- Discuss Their Fear
Children don’t really like to talk about the things they are afraid of – really, the same goes for adults as well! However, it’s an important part of finding out why they are afraid. They might have a genuine fear; for example, if you’ve been on an aircraft that’s gone through turbulence, then they might have developed a fear of flying. Or it might be a fear that doesn’t have a route, something instinctive like the aforementioned clowns, swimming in water, or the ever-popular arachnophobia.
- Talk Through The Fear
When you have established the route of the fear, you can discuss why it’s not something they need to fear.
If it’s a previous experience, then explain that this was a one-off that won’t happen again. Use your experience as a reference here.
For fears without foundation, try and talk to them about it being okay to be cautious but that it’s not a good idea to fear the things they don’t know. What if they were afraid of seeing a movie? Or eating a new ice cream they’ve never tried before? Try and reinforce the idea that new things, different things, can be positive.
- Make The Fear Fun
Wherever possible, try and find some fun within the fear for them to focus on. For example:
Clowns – point out how the rest of the circus is a lot of fun, or show them how clown makeup is applied.
Swimming/water – try and encourage them to try watersports or look through a guide to swimming gear for kids until they find a few costumes they might like to try.
Spiders – Explain how useful spiders are for the ecosystem and encourage them to see them as helpers, not problems.
- Acknowledge The Fear – But Power Past It Never tell a child with a phobia that they are being silly or childish. Always acknowledge the fear as real to them, but don’t change your habits, structure, or plans because of it. Make them feel heard, but explain that sometimes they are going to have to face their fear – so they might as well get some practice in!