How to soothe childhood fears

Originally published on Vietnamnews

Fear is with joy, sadness and anger, an emotion we feel since childhood. This is an automatic response of our brain that is activated when a situation is interpreted as dangerous. Fear is accompanied by physical sensations such as rapid breathing and heartbeat, sweaty palms, dilated pupils, tense muscles, stomach ache, dry mouth, nausea or shaking movements.

Whatever the origin of fear, the child needs to be supported by an adult. When he says he is afraid, a child expresses a need for reassurance and attachment. Although the fear seems wacky, silly, crazy… always believe a child who says he is frightened. It is inappropriate to make fun of fears or minimize them. Forcing a child to face a fear while he is not ready for this is simply harmful.

A quick overview of fears :

« traditional » fears in children are linked to development milestones: fear of the dark, fear of separation, fear of monsters, fear of noises… they are transient and may disappear and reappear in the child‘s development, depending on life experiences. For example, a preschool child who does not find his marks in a new school would develop a fear (of monsters, dinosaurs…) before going to bed during this period of time, bedtime ritual would be endless… On the other hand, some fears are not linked to any experience but result from the brain evolution : it’ very common to have fun in the sea with a 2 years old and to see the same child one year later extremely scared from being bitten by a shark.
– There are also fears that result from experiences “I’m afraid to go to the dentist because I remember that
it was not pleasant last time”... or I read a book in which a little rabbit was afraid of the dentist, so I’ve learned that the dentist must be scary !

– Be careful about movies, cartoons, books that your children are exposed to and can show too violent images that could be overwhelming.

– If a child goes through a traumatic experience, he is likely to manifest fear in any situation similar to the appearance of shock. For example, after falling off a horse, a child may be frightened at the sight of the animal, even a photo. His internal sense of security would probably be damaged and the child could be afraid of many different things.

How to soothe your child ?

1) Listen compassionately
Make yourself accessible to the child, let him say what he feels, without judging, without interrupting or trying to bring him to reason. Instead, we must validate his emotions allow her to cry. It is always better to name the emotions, asking details on what your child feels rather than deny and say “don’t worry, this is nothing”.

2) Be physically reassuring
When your child expresses fears, you can watch her with love and also take her hand, touch her shoulder, try to keep physical contact. Then, take her in your arms and give her your loving presence, a kiss, a cuddle.

3) verbally reassure a frightened child giving simple and rational answers
– « You’re afraid to go to school because you will not see Mom and Dad all day. Even if we are not together, we both think of you and we are happy because we know we will be together at the end of the day  »
– « You are scared before falling asleep because at your age, your imagination is boundless and you see monsters. »
– “There are no sharks on the beach”
– « Look, the dinosaur you see is actually the shadow of your chair ». To move forward, you can explain him the principle of shadow puppetry shows.

4) Play !

Playing is good for all children and especially those going through anxiety. You can use role play, create a game about your child’s fear and laugh about it to release the tension.
You can also offer the child to draw the monsters that frighten him, and then add them all ridiculous attributes (a red nose, lipstick, a little dress, firefighter
hat etc.). All this must be done on a very gentle and respectful way.

5) Encourage her to find a solution
Whether it’s the fear of failing to make friends in a new school or fear of witches, let the child list all the solutions, without judging them, she may make to allay fears. If she has no idea, guide her, give her options: “how could you do to be less afraid at night? Would you like to have a flashlight?  » Give an object that belongs to you and that will help to reassure her.

When to seek a professional help ?

Your child’s worries are cause of concern if they become severe anxiety and interfere with a healthy development. When parents feel helpless, it is probably time to see a therapist who will guide you to understand the cause and give you tools to reduce anxiety.

In all cases, be patient and listen, this is the best way to help a child grow, by developing a good self-confidence!

Pour plus d’information, vous pouvez vous rendre à la page Enfants.