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Helping Children Manage Their Fears

by BetterSleep
May 14 • 4 min read
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It’s completely normal for children to worry and have fears. It only makes sense, part of growing up means facing new environments and challenges that may be overwhelming. But unlike adults, most kids are still developing their emotional resilience and capacity to work through their fears. And just like adults, even seemingly small fears can become a problem when they start impacting your daily routine and ability to function.

Say your 10 year old is afraid of the dark (an extremely common fear in children called achluophobia). If it gets to the point that you are spending hours trying to get your child to bed, or that they physically can’t sleep unless they are with you - that’s obviously impacting your life. So what do you do? Keep reading to learn more about what you can do to help your child face, and overcome their fears.

Common fears for kids to have:

  • Achluophobia (fear of the dark)
  • Being alone, separation anxiety
  • Heights
  • Going to see the doctor
  • Fear of death of a loved one or themselves

How to help your child manage their fears

Listen and validate their feelings

Regardless of what the fear is, remember that to your child, it’s scary and causes them distress. Take the time to listen to what is bothering them and validate their feelings by saying things like, “I understand how that must be really scary for you.” Acknowledge their concerns and repeat them back to them to show that you understand them correctly.

Talk about their fears

The Child Mind Institute also recommends asking your kids specific questions about their fears. For example, if they are scared by a dog, ask what it is about the dog that scares them. The Child Mind Institute says that getting to the root of your child’s fear can make it easier for you to help them. It could also be helpful to create a fear hierarchy, a list of what your kid is scared of from least scary to most scary. Together, you can start with the items on the list at the bottom to help build their confidence and capabilities.

Important: regardless of what the fear is, don’t laugh at their fears or try to disregard them.

Don’t try to fix it your child’s fear yourself

It’s only natural to want to do whatever you can to take away your child’s pain when they are scared of something. However, it’s important for kids to learn how to overcome fears on their own so they learn to self-regulate their emotions (the ability to process and manage emotions). Of course, you don’t need to let your child suffer on their own. Help them learn how to self-regulate by taking small steps to face their fears.

Remember, progress over perfection. Make sure you praise your child for their efforts and celebrate the small wins!

Help your kids tackle fears with realistic thinking

Thinking that the worst possible outcome is bound to happen, better known as catastrophizing, is a common think trap that adults also have. One way to help your child work through their fears is by challenging (not dismissing) the thought.

Say you’re kid is afraid of going to bed alone, they may catastrophize and think that if they sleep alone they will definitely be attacked by a monster or someone will kidnap them. Challenge the thought by gathering evidence that disproves or supports the thought. One argument could be that other people sleep alone every night and they are completely fine, so the odds of something bad happening are actually extremely rare, and not guaranteed like they may believe.

Understood.org explains that some kids can find arguments for both sides, and learn to ‘debate’ themselves to find a more balanced thought (ie. if everyone else can sleep alone, it’s probably okay for me to as well). You can help them by encouraging and guiding them through this process.

If the fear is persistent or starts impacting their daily life to the point where they can’t go to bed, school or something else it may be time to reach out to a professional. Remember, it’s completely normal for kids to be scared. Reaching out for additional support shows strength and will make it easier for you and your child to effectively tackle fears.

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