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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.
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.
• 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.