Helping Children Through Fears and Anxiety

Both fear and anxiety are very real emotional responses to some kind of trigger or stimulus. Adults naturally want to tell a child that “there is nothing to be afraid of” or “don't worry, everything is fine.” While we mean well, those statements aren't very effective at making the feelings go away, nor do they help console the child who is experiencing the fear. 

Here are some ways experts suggest will help:

 

To help your child deal with fears and anxieties:

  1. Recognize that the fear is real. ... "I see that you are afraid, what has upset you?"

  2. Never belittle the fear as a way of forcing your child to overcome it. ..."Don't be ridiculous, there are no such thing as monsters..."

  3. Don't cater to fears, though. Comforting is fine, but be careful not to over coddle or become overly anxious yourself as this might perpetuate the fear or anxiety.

  4. Teach coping strategies. Find out what they think might help lessen the feeling. The cause is different for every child; therefore, the strategy will be different according to the fear. 

We need to try and get to the root of the fear as soon as possible. Educators should communicate with the parents, and likewise, parents with the educators. Let the teacher know if your child has experienced any tragic event in their life that may be associated with anxiety or fear. Perhaps a parent has had to work out of town. While this is not a tragic event, the feeling they have is equivalent to loss.

We see separation anxiety typically in infants and toddlers. Older children can display behavior that is similar to separation anxiety particularly when a parent has to be away from home for an extended period of time. The difference is that older children tend to gravitate physically; leaning on or needing to sit close to the secondary adult in their life (teacher). They may display what seems like unprovoked sadness. The teacher should give the child the opportunity to express their concerns as well as offer coping strategies. 

Children will miss their parents regardless of their age, and although it won't help to “cater” to the fear, one such strategy could be to allow the child to have a photo of the parent to look at during the day may help the child. You can teach breathing techniques to regain control. A simple offer of a hug may also work. 

If the child becomes hysterical, the only appropriate response is to remain completely calm and remind the child she is in a safe and peaceful place.

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