I’m Scared

Lori’s daughter was scared of costumed characters. I’m not fond of heights or water. Halloween costumes, TV characters, new experiences, the unknown. Any or all of these can scare a child. Being scared or having fears does not magically disappear as children grow into their teen years. And as adults we still have our share of fears.

However, children think differently from adults. Preschoolers and younger little ones can’t separate fantasy from the real world. School-agers can distinguish between fantasy and reality but may have trouble interpreting more subtle messages. Adults “get” the difference but that doesn’t always help.

So what to do – how do we help our children (and maybe each other) handle fears. Well to begin with, our fears depend on past experiences, imagination, and our general level of anxiety.

Don’t make fun of your child’s fears and try not to give lectures. Telling me there’s no reason to be scared of heights doesn’t make me feel any better. I still don’t like them. Accept fears as valid. Be supportive of your child with a matter-of-fact attitude and reassuring words. As a child gets older she will have a better understanding of cause and effect, reality and fantasy. And she is likely to have more experience with whatever is causing the fear. For example I’ve had many years of coming across heights and don’t get nearly as anxious.

Help your child learn some coping skills. In my case, I know to take deep breaths when I get into situations involving heights. Sometimes I can avoid the issue altogether. That’s an ok way to cope. So is picturing myself confidently crossing a tall bridge. Forcing your child into whatever scares him is probably not a good idea. That may just make things worse.

Comfort and common sense are two tools to put to use when dealing with fears – for children of all ages and adults too!

Donna Donald

Donna Donald is a Human Sciences specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach who has spent her career working with families across the lifespan. She believes families are defined by function as well as form. Donna entered parenthood as a stepmother to three daughters and loves being a grandmother of seven young adults.

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