Fear is a common experience for many children and typically expected throughout stages of childhood, but some fears can become severe and over time, develop into a phobia. Phobias are identifiable, persistent and excessive fears triggered by the presence or anticipation of a specific object or situation. There are many common fears that persist during childhood, but when a fear is accompanied by extreme anxiety or induces panic and lasts six months or longer, a fear can transform into a phobia.
As a child, the thought of facing my fears was incredibly daunting, especially when I felt as though I had to face them completely alone. However, with the support from my family and friends, I felt as though I could do it and get over any fears and phobias I had. Sometimes, just having one person there, supporting you and guiding you along the way can make a true difference when facing big, scary fears. Afterward, those fears weren’t as scary and facing any fears I had didn’t seem so bad!
When coming face to face with a fear or phobia, children can suffer from anxiety or panic attacks. A phobia can be difficult for parents and other adults to tolerate because it typically disrupts routine and seems irrational and unreasonable.
Common anxiety symptoms induced by a phobia:
- Increased heart rate
- Trembling or shaking
- Shortness of breath
How to help your kids combat their phobias:
When hesitant and unwilling to face and overcome their fears, how can parents help their children combat their phobias to ensure they don’t persist throughout their life? One rule of thumb is to not allow fear to linger by hoping your child will simply “grow out of it.” This can sometimes have the opposite effect and actually cause phobias to develop – precisely by letting fear linger and anxiety loom larger until it becomes out of control. Parents can try these tactics:
1. Validate their fears and emotions through empathy
It can be difficult when we, as parents, know that some fears to us seem irrational or unreasonable, but to a child, they are very real prominent fears. In order to help your child work through a phobia, your child must understand that you realize and recognize their fears. This means you should talk about their fears with them. Use words to take power away from the fears. Validating and recognizing that your child’s fear is real also helps them connect with you.
2. Never belittle or cater to fears
Both are equally damaging to children. Don’t belittle their fear by telling them they’re being ridiculous or irrational. It certainly won’t make their fear disappear and it won’t make them feel any better about their fear. They may also become unlikely to discuss their fears with you if you react this way. Avoid doing things that cater to their fears, such as deliberately altering your routine so they won’t have to face their fears. This will only reinforce their fears. Make sure you project a calm, yet confident manner when you talk about their fears with them.
3. Practice and teach coping strategies
Use various coping strategies to help your children cope with phobias while facing them head-on. These strategies to combat fear will heavily depend on the particular phobia your child has, but some general ideas to stem from include:
- Using sensory calming to reduce panic and anxiety induced by their fears and phobias. Gentle touching and affection can help reduce their panic and anxiety in the moment, bringing them back to the present and calming them in the process.
- Help put their fears in positive situations to help change their perspective on their fear. Insert their fear into positive situations and even everyday situations.
4. Challenge your child to test the edge of fear
By doing something that is scary but doesn’t terrify them in the process, kids can challenge themselves to get close to their edge of fear without fully facing it. This is, of course, unless their fear is something that could actually harm them. By doing this, they can continually get used to their fear and in the process, gradually reduce their fear and eventually face and overcome it entirely.
Facing your fears is hard to do – at any age. It’s important to recognize your child’s fears and proactively help them work through it, before it transforms into a life-long phobia. By helping your child work through a fear or phobia, you can further connect with them and help them to Face Fear Without Freaking Out. Just remember that conquering fear becomes easier for kids when they have love, patience and overall support from others. For more tips and resources on helping your child through other life challenges.