If you have ever heard your preschool child scream, “There’s a monster under my bed!” or “That big dog is going to bite me!”, you are not alone.
The world can seem like a scary place to a preschooler, and it is common for kids to be afraid of new things.
What can we as parents do to help them face these fears?
Often, the biggest challenge for parents is finding a balance between empathising with your preschoolers and not feeding their fears.
Much as our hearts ache when we see them recoiling in horror at something they are afraid of, we ultimately want them to grow in resilience and courage to face the tough situation in front of them.
The best response is to keep a calm demeanour and tone of voice, even as you offer them a listening ear. This will allow you to empathise with your preschoolers without increasing their anxiety.
Talk about their fears
When preschoolers are fearful of something, the worst thing you can do is to minimise or ignore their fear. Saying “there’s nothing to be afraid of” or “don’t be so scared” is unhelpful and likely to make them feel more anxious.
Instead, allow your children to articulate what is troubling them and why.
Naming their fears can sometimes help them realise that they are not as scary as they seem. Asking them to share the reason for their fear can also help you understand and deal with the root cause, and think of possible coping mechanisms that might help your child.
Create a plan
Children’s fears often follow a predictable pattern.
For instance, if your children are afraid of the dark, you can be certain that this fear will emerge at bedtime, resulting in a routine of tantrums, tears and a refusal to go to sleep.
In order to help them overcome this fear, devise a simple plan and try it out during a time when they are relaxed.
This could include switching on a nightlight for your children before going to bed, and encouraging them to use self-talk to remind themselves that any movements in the dark are just shadows.
If they still feel fearful after trying these steps, only then do they call for you. If your children know that there is a plan in place, they will be assured that they are not helpless whenever fear strikes.
Provide gradual exposure
When your children are afraid of something, you might be tempted to help them avoid the object or situation completely in order to protect them.
However, doing so might backfire and result in the fear becoming a long-standing phobia. On the other hand, some fears can be overcome by gently introducing your children to the subject of fear.
For example, if your children are fearful of dogs, you could first bring them to a park to observe the dogs playing from a distance.
After a few instances of doing this, you could visit a friend who has a pet dog, and encourage your children to sit in the same room with it. When your children start to feel more comfortable, the next step could be to encourage them to touch the dog gently. This slow and steady exposure, at a pace your children are comfortable with, will enable them to bravely face and eventually overcome their fears.
Seek professional help
In cases where these coping strategies are still not sufficient to help your children deal with their fears, you can choose to seek the help of a counsellor or healthcare professional.
They will be able to provide expert advice and guide you in helping your child.
As our children move through their growing years and into adulthood, more complex and difficult issues are guaranteed to crop up. When we empower our children with the tools to cope with fear from young, they will gradually develop emotional resilience and be more equipped to deal with crises later in life.
Written by Judith Xavier
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