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Monday, April 23, 2007

How to cope with your child’s fears

“Mommy, I am scared.” Says your three-year-old child. What do you do? When your child begins to express fear, you may think that something is wrong, but psychologists and child specialists say childhood fears are all a natural part of growing up.
It is important that you help your children learn to cope with their fears in ways that preserve their dignity and self worth. Help your children to become familiar with the unknown. Their experiences in mastering the unfamiliar will give them the confidence they need to master new things rather than shrinking away from new situations. Here are some useful tips on how to cope with your child's fears.
1)Offer understanding of the fear – and provide helpful information about the feared item or situation. For example, let your child know that you understand that thunder can be scary. Tell your child that dogs bark because that is how they talk or they bark a lot when they are happy to see someone. Explaining about the feared item or situation to children may help them to see it in a different perspective thereby easing away their fear.
2)Read Special Books – Special books that deal with various childhood fears are readily available. Reading such books encourages children to talk about their own fears. Here are three special books written by Mercer Mayer to help children in overcoming their nighttime fears. Try reading these books aloud to your children and afterwards talk about their fears. You may also wish to share a few of your own fears that you had when you were their age.
*There’s A Nightmare in My Closet- (A cute children’s story about nightmares)
*There’s Something in My Attic (A pied Piper book) - (All about things that go bump in the night)
*There’s An Alligator under My Bed- (More things that go bump in the night)
3)Do not ever belittle the fear – Parents might be tempted to take the bed apart- to prove no monsters lurk within the house. Do not do it, because, then the child begins to think that there is something there, instead of dispelling the myth and moving on. Do not ever belittle the fear. Children seek reassurance from parents that things will be OK. Parents should be able to communicate that fears are normal and that there are solutions. If, for instance, your child is afraid of the dark, you might say, “Many kids your age develop a fear of the dark. I did and here is how I used to deal with it.” Help them develop a sense that they can handle it.
4)Help your children approach fears at their own pace – Some children need more time than others do, to enter a new situation. Do not push or force her, but use encouragement and praise for coping and approaching a feared situation. For example, if your child is afraid of dogs, read stories and watch a TV show about dogs and then get your child acquainted with a small, friendly dog. If your child is afraid of a doctor’s visit, plan a visit when your child is well and does not need an examination or injection. If your child is afraid of the dark, provide a nightlight or soft music so your child does not feel lonely. If your child is afraid of the toilet flushing or the drain in the bathtub, provide a potty first and make bath time fun with water toys.
5)Avoid scary situations – When it is reasonable and practical, take away or avoid those things that make your child feel afraid. If the noise of the vacuum cleaner scares your child, try to vacuum when your child is in another room.
6)Monitor what your child watches on TV – Many programs and movies are too intense for young children and may encourage their fears. Encourage them to shut their eyes when they see something they do not like and remind them that they can turn off the TV if they are scared. Children’s fear will abate if they feel that they have some control over it.
7)Good luck charms – Giving your child a good luck charm is very effective for relieving anxiety. Holding a favorite doll or blanket makes children feel that it will protect them from harm. Even grown-ups use a “lucky pen” to get better grades. Good luck activities like whistling, humming, taking deep breaths or squeezing a parent’s hand also works well. Some good luck rituals can be very reassuring to older children. These rituals can be symbolic – for example, spraying an aerosol can to keep monsters at bay, or, they can be bodily gestures- for example, crossing one’s fingers for luck.
8)Listen and encourage – Encourage children to talk about their fears and be ready to listen and lend support. Very young children are not able to put their fears into words. In these instances, activities such as coloring, painting, and play-acting can help them communicate their fears. Alternatively, encourage them to listen to music, as it tends to have a calming effect.
9)Distract Them – Distraction is an especially useful technique for younger children and infants, who have such a short attention span that they will forget what made them afraid. “Look at this light (or pencil or button). Do not look at anything else. Let’s see what we can do with it.” This will make the child concentrate on the activity at hand and forget about the feared item.
10)Control your own fears – Children are very aware of their parent’s anxieties. The concern that a parent feels for her child is easily misinterpreted as meaning that the parent is afraid too. Your facial expression and your words should convey the impression that everything is under control and that everything will be OK.
11)Magical, good luck thoughts – By suggesting good-luck (or special) thoughts, you can distract your child from a thought that is scary and replace it with one that is more pleasant. Blowing on imaginary candles on a birthday cake (your fingers) are good activities for controlling fears, such as getting an injection in the doctor's office. In addition, the tried-and-true "kissing a boo-boo" still has the same magical healing effect on minor cuts and bruises. The more modern version of kissing a child's forehead to heal sad thoughts uses the same magic.
12)Offer support – Do not try to dismiss their fears with statements such as “don’t be silly; there’s nothing to be afraid of.” Rather, offer support by statements such as “I know you are afraid of going into the water; I’ll be there with you to make sure you are all right.”
13)Conjure up images to help conquer fears – Help your children to master their fears by thinking of ways to handle them. Capitalize on the children’s imagination by having them conjure up an image, such as a super-hero protector or a container into which they can put their fears.
14)Protect your child – Help them understand that some fears are appropriate. We need to protect ourselves from danger. We do not touch a hot stove or run in front of an oncoming bus. We read about incidents where children are abducted and killed by strangers and that has prompted some parents to go overboard in warning their children about people who might hurt them. Be careful how you explain these things to your children, as those awful stories may affect them seriously and make them think that the same thing will happen to them.
Three-year-olds are so seldom away from caring adults that there is no need to scare them about people who might harm them. Most people love and protect kids, and it is only when children get older and begin wandering the neighborhood on their own that parents must teach them self-protection skills. For example, you might consider buying your daughter a whistle she can wear around her neck or keep in her pocket that she can blow when she is fearful. The whistle serves two purposes: It calls you to her side and frightens anyone who might harm her. It also allows her to control her fears rather than having them control her.
15)Do not let up on discipline and limits in order to appease a fearful child. The child needs the security of limits. Provide safe boundaries within which the child can function. Reinforce coping; do not rescue.
Try out these tips, and even then if you fail to cope up with the situation, seek professional assistance.

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