Seeing children battle their fears can be a terrifying thing for any parent to witness so learn these five ways to support your children to overcome their phobias.
Watching them tremble, sob, scream and run away because they are faced with something that, on the surface, will probably do no harm, they are afraid of, is upsetting.
Overcoming a phobia is not an easy thing for anyone to do, let alone someone so young.
However, it is possible, and we bring you five ways to support your children to do so successfully.
A natural parenting instinct is to bring your child in close to protect them when they feel scared or anxious.
If you do this every time they are greeted by something they are fearful of, for example, a dog, they will learn that their phobia is justified. In fact, phobias are generally irrational fear of something.
This reaction will also communicate to your offspring that Mommy’s arms are the only place you will get comfort and be safe from a particular thing.
This is an unhealthy notion to convey.
Of course, in scooping a child up into your arms, you are merely trying to offer comfort.
Unfortunately, by doing so, you are likely to compound their fears further.
Instead, try to offer positive words, such as, “The lady has the dog on a leash, and she will make sure it doesn’t come near you unless you want it to.” or “I know you’re probably feeling a little bit scared right now, but everything is ok.”
Talk to them about it
Avoiding the subject of phobias can make it almost taboo in some ways.
This is not a healthy approach to dealing with fear.
Speak to your child openly about the thing or things they are afraid of and come up with ways forward, together.
For example, if a child is petrified of thunder, discuss what it is, how it is made, and come up with some funny similes about it, such as “This thunder is as loud as Daddy’s rumbling tummy before he has dinner.”
Then each time the stormy weather begins, you could bring up how hungry the child’s father must be.
Being honest about your own fears can be useful, too, though it is crucial to avoid projecting onto them and making the situation worse.
Always insist that it is natural to be fearful of certain things, but you realize it will not serve any purpose in your life.
Face it together
No one is saying that you should force your child to face their fears but encouraging them to do so could be precisely what they need.
Start small, such as pointing out a spider in the home.
Discuss how it is probably afraid of you both, too.
It would also be worthwhile talking about the advantages of having some spiders within your property.
The more they know about something, the less the worry because it is often the unknown that is troubling.
Of course, if there were an outbreak of them, a company dealing in spider pest control may be your answer, as this would be too huge a challenge to begin with.
Alternatively, rather than facing the fear in your home environment, you could visit a zoo where people are able to touch and hold the creepy crawlies.
It may not work, but sometimes the peer pressure of being around others who are willing to give it a go can be a helpful strategy.
Many things that children fear, such as the dark, dogs, bugs, needles, storms, are no longer scary once we become an adult.
Therefore, it can be tempting to respond in a somewhat blasé way when a child has expressed their concerns about feeling frightened.
For example, if you take your child for their booster shots at the doctor and they say they are afraid, rather than saying there’s nothing to be scared of, try validating them.
“Lots of children feel frightened just like you,” is a great way to start the conversation.
Depending on the age of the child, you could even explain the purpose of the jab and what could happen without it.
Of course, you do not want to scare them further; it’s a fine balance and only you know how much your child can cope with.
After getting the shot, remember to praise your child for their bravery and doing something that made them feel uncomfortable.
Recognize that not all phobias are equal
While it would be easy to assume that all phobias are things we would like our children to overcome, this does not actually need to be the case.
In fact, not all fears are equal and by treating them as such, we could potentially undermine the importance of facing fears which actually could make a difference within a child’s life.
Being afraid of taking a trip to see the dentist is a phobia that must be faced.
Without doing so, problems with teeth could go untreated and become an even larger issue, both painful and uncomfortable.
It is clear, therefore, that this is something you must help your child to get over or at least make it less of a concern.
On the other hand, you have phobias such as scary movies and snakes, which although they can potentially cause some issues, they can be avoided for the most part.
For example, children can say they don’t want to watch something frightening on TV and move themselves into a different room.
As for snakes, if they visit someone’s house where there is one, they can say they would prefer not to be near it.
By recognizing that not all phobias are equal and that there is almost a hierarchy of them, you are establishing which things need to worked on and which can be left.
Dealing with worries about being alone in the dark is something that must be done.
However, forcing your child to watch scary movies when there is absolutely no need is over the top and could be counterproductive.