Dealing with fears sensibly

While our grandson had some understanding about the recent terrorist attacks in the UK, it went over the head of his younger sister, writes Ian Munro.

Ian Munro.
Ian Munro.

A one-off discussion was enough to help the 9-year-old keep things in perspective, but dealing with the day-to-day fears of younger children requires a little more.

At 3 or 4, as children begin to look outside themselves and the safe family unit to the bigger world and life around them, a little fear can actually be a good thing. It’s what keeps kids safe. Through to 5 or 6 they might also have fear of the dark, of monsters, of being made fun of, of burglars, even of death.

"Needless" fears can cause a child all sorts of problems feeling generally safe in their world, but we also want them to use their intuitive fear to be wary, for example, of traffic and over-friendly strangers.

This means we shouldn’t ridicule a child’s fears but get them to think about those fears and help them learn to weigh up ‘‘good’’ and ‘‘needless’’ fears.

Some strategies:

Don’t laugh at or ignore their fears.

• Ridicule and not listening will stop them coming to you.

• Let them know that there’s nothing that’s so bad that they can’t tell someone about it.

• Talk the fears over. Listen and give reassurance by explaining what’s happening or is going to happen and why. If it’s monsters under the bed, be matter-of-factly direct. There aren’t any. Come on, let’s get under the bed together and see. Or, Sometimes the dark can seem scary because you can’t see. Let’s get you a torch. Simple explanation and reassurance.

• If it’s a good fear, talk over a simple plan of action for dealing with it. For example, visit the hospital that they’re going to go to and look around; or make a plan if Mummy’s late to pick them up from school.

• Be prepared to go over an explanation or the plan several times on more than one occasion before a fear diminishes.

• If the fear is more complex, for example, Is Grandma going to die? then, even if you have that fear yourself, don’t dismiss it with a No, as you could be caught out in a week’s time and some trust in you lost. Bite the bullet and talk about Grandma’s situation in simple, honest terms and share some of your feelings, too.

• Sometimes one fear is masking another, deeper, one. Listen carefully. The concern about Grandma dying may also include another unspoken one about you dying.

• Let them see other children acting confidently in doing what they’re afraid of  for example, patting a dog.

• Be careful not to transmit any of your needless fears  perhaps of injections or spiders.


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