Sometimes, children are scared of things that actually represent no threat whatsoever, like the dark or loud noises like thunder.
This is because they are voraciously consuming information about the world around them all day long, and making internal connections between cause-and-effect that are as apt to be driven by their growing imaginations as by fact. In addition, they feel vulnerable: they are smaller than the grown-ups around them, and there’s a lot they don’t know or understand.
Helpful vs. unhelpful fears
As parents, we intentionally instil some fears to help keep our children safe. For example, we want our kids to be nervous walking into the street, so they’ll be sure to look both ways before they cross. We want them to run away from a stranger who invites them into a car. We want our children to recognize potential danger, but without causing them to be anxious all the time. It’s a thin line, sometimes.
But how can you prevent your child’s fears of everyday, non-threatening things from becoming significant anxieties in their lives? If your child is afraid of bugs, for example, what do you do?
3 tips for reducing children’s fears
- Listen openly. If you see your child recoil, or cling to you, or scream/cry/have a tantrum in response to something, ask them to tell you what’s wrong. Get down on their level, put your arms around them, and have some “us time” that is all about you hearing what is scaring them. Don’t minimize their reaction with something like “don’t be silly! there’s nothing to be afraid of!”… this can leave them feeling alone with their fear (leading to more fear). Let them see you take their feelings seriously, and they are safe with you.
- Share facts honestly, so you can chip away at their fear. If your child is afraid of bugs, do a little research and find out things those bugs do to help us. Tell your little one about how those bugs feed their children, where they live, if they “sleep” all winter… anything that will help your kiddo begin to see the insects as neighbours in our world as opposed to threats. If the insect stings or bites, explain why. If your child can see the bugs – or whatever they’re afraid of – in a more positive light, they won’t likely be as afraid.
- Show AND tell. You are your child’s first and most important role model. If they see you set an Olympic record for the backyard dash whenever a bee comes to visit, they’ll naturally fear bees. Do whatever you can to handle your own irrational fears calmly… outwardly, at least.