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Tips for Parents-Dealing With Your Child's Fears

Every parent has seen this happen, where your child suddenly screams and runs away from something that has frightened them. These types of fears can produce painful anxiety for children, interfere with school work or social interactions and restrict them from many activities. For a parent, witnessing your child suffering this way can be very upsetting, so here are some tips that might help you and your child overcome fears.

Don't panic or overreact. It is altogether normal and expected that children experience bouts of fear-related anxiety. That's just part of life. Some children from 0-2 years old might be afraid of loud noises, strangers or separation from parents. Some children from ages 3-6 years old might be afraid of imaginary things such as ghosts, monsters, any dark or strange noises. Many children, ages 7-16, might have more realistic fears such as injury, illness, school performance, death and natural disasters. Most of these fears are not severe enough to require treatment from a professional unless they are having serious anxiety problems.

Parents can play an important role in helping any child overcome their fears.

Don't Ignore: Do not simply assume "they will grow out of it." As we get older, we often get better at masking or hiding our fears. If we do not confront them, they often persist into adulthood and beyond.

Be Supportive: Never discount your child's fears, no matter how harmless it may seem. Dismissing their feelings just makes your child feel more alone, ashamed of their fears, and harder for them to express their feelings in the future.

Treat the Symptoms: Help your child develop coping mechanisms for dealing with fear. Teach your child breathing exercises by modeling slow, deep breathing for them. Actually, the longer their breaths, the more the symptoms of anxiety are relieved. Exercise is another way to control anxiety. Exercise burns up anxiety producing hormones, reducing stress and making your child feel more relaxed.

Face Their Fears: Confronting the source of a fear should be done in a gradual, step-by-step process. Begin by having your child simply imagine the feared object or situation. Have them use the coping mechanisms they have developed to relieve any anxiety they experience. When they are able to cope with this, begin exposing them for short periods to whatever it is that is causing them the fear. Through repeated exposure, your child feels an increasing sense of control and the fear becomes weaker.

Help may also be available from a doctor or psychologist if the fears are so enormous that these techniques do not work for you and your child. Ultimately, the only way to overcome any fear is to confront the source of the fear. Of course, never forget that there are real dangers out in the world that your child should not confront. Discerning between real and imaginary dangers can be one of the most important lessons you as a parent can impart.


For more information you may contact the National Mental Health America Office at 1-800-969-6642 or log onto www.nmha.org.


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