How to Help Your Child with Phobias: Common Fears and Solutions

Many fears and phobias in childhood are normal. With support and consistency, your child will grow out of them in time. However, these fears are very real for your child in the moment and deserve to be treated with respect and care.

Determine If the Fear is Reasonable

Younger children are often afraid of the dark, ghosts or monsters. Fear of strangers, animals, loud noises, school and being separated from a parent are all also quite common. If the fear is leading to more serious consequences, like inability to sleep, poor performance at school or frequent tantrums or crying, you may want to consider a professional counselor. If the fear is not impacting your child’s everyday life, then gentle encouragement at home will help them through this developmental stage.

Identify and Combat Underlying Causes

There are many events that could lead children to develop a fear or phobia. Being attacked by a dog or knocked over by a large but rambunctious dog may lead to a fear of animals. A divorce or death among friend’s parents may create a fear of losing a parent. Bullying can lead to a fear of going to school. Try to identify these potentially frightening situations and talk to your child about them in a calm, age appropriate and understanding manner. If bullying is an issue, partner with your child’s teachers and principle to combat it. Being proactive can prevent some of these fears, or at least weaken them, before they develop.

Teach Coping Tactics

Children often do not have the same ability as adults to self sooth or realize when their fears are irrational. Teaching your children to breathe slowly, count to ten or imagine themselves in a calm and safe place can help them deal with their emotions. Rating the fear on a scale of one to ten can also help them gain a greater emotional intelligence and feel more in control.

Habituation

Habituation, allowing your child to slowly get used to a frightening item, sound or situation can greatly reduce fear. For example, a child who is terrified of dogs may start with a picture of a dog, then move on to a stuffed animal, then a small, calm dog far away, a small dog close up, petting a small dog, petting a larger dog and so on. At each step it is important to let your child slowly overcome his or her fear. Encountering the thing we fear and realizing it didn’t hurt us is one of the most effective ways to reduce or eliminate a phobia.

Case Study

This story comes from Affordable Lock Services Inc. in Toronto. One family had a boy named Josh who developed a strong fear of burglars, kidnappers, and other home intruders. Josh’s fear kept him up late at nights and often he couldn’t sleep at all. Finally his parents had a conversation with him about his new fear. After thinking about how to help Josh, they came up with a creative plan: Josh and his dad surveyed the entire house for the different areas where someone could come in. They looked at the doors, the windows, and the garage. Josh’s dad asked Josh to evaluate the security of each point of the house and see if there was anything that could reasonably be improved.

That’s where Affordable Lock Services Inc. heard about the story: Josh called them up and asked about the prices of installing new locks on the side door of the garage.

Josh found a very proactive and practical way to confront his fears. By taking on this responsibility hand in hand with his father, he was able to find a better way to cope with his fears. This is a great solution for children everywhere.

Never belittle your child’s fear, but don’t make a big deal of avoiding the feared thing, as this will only encourage the fear. Patience, understanding and sometimes a nightlight will help your child grow into a confident adult.

Tim Esterdahl

Tim Esterdahl is the editor of IFCS blog. He is a married father of three and enjoys golf in his spare time.

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