Dealing with a child’s irrational fears is sort of like going through spiritual bootcamp. As you go through it, you’ve found that you’ve experienced, denial, anger, frustration, compassion, patience, acceptance and, in the end, unconditional love. Today, my 3 1/2 year old daughter touched a dog Yes, TOUCHED a dog, as in willingly went up to it and pet it. A year ago, if she had even saw a dog, from a mile away, she would have climbed up me like I was a tree and then leaped into my arms.
When the fears hit, there is no reasoning. There is no explaining. There is no telling her to ‘get over it‘. She kicks her legs, makes a funny face and basically throws a sort of fear induced temper tantrum, sort of half moaning and half screaming the whole time. It hasn’t always been a fear of dogs. It used to be an intense fear that the moon was falling down. Fear of live performances. Fear of the vacuum. The blender. The birds. The bird on the balcony. And, currently, she’s insanely scared of things blowing away in the wind. Like, INSANELY scared. Le sigh… She’s not a nervous wreck all of the time, but she is a sensitive little one and has her moments.
I’m not into tough love. I believe in finding gentle ways to deal with kids when they are having an issue. It can *seem* like a huge pain trying to be patient while a child sorts through their fears, but I really believe that the little bit of patience and a ‘wait it out‘ mentality is worth it in the long run.
The very first thing I had to do when my daughter was terrified of something was to simply accept that they she was feeling that scared. Easier said than done… It’s really hard for us, as adults, to stop whatever activity we’re doing and change gears when a child starts to come unglued. But, it was really for everyone’s benefit for my husband and I to just face the fact that she was scared and that nothing was going to change, and then we could proceed from there.
For example, I once took Margo to go see a play. We got there late. We walked into a dark theatre. Five seconds in and she cried out, ‘I want to go home!!!‘ And, that was that. Never mind that we have arranged the whole day to go. Never mind that we had talked about it on the drive there and she was very excited to go see it. I couldn’t have stayed in the theatre with a screaming two year old. So, I had to leave. At first, I was so angry that I wasted so much time and effort. Once we got in the car, she asked to go back!!! I said ‘NO‘ and she cried even more! I’m pretty sure that I started crying too. I was just getting used to dealing with this fearfulness thing, so ‘compromising‘ my actives, or the idea that I had in my head of what we *should* be doing, was all very new to me. I had this vision of us enjoying the play, with her sitting on my lap and pointing at all the props and the actors, but, in reality, here I was, both of us crying on the drive home. Acceptance was the first and most difficult step.
Removal From the Situation for a Short Term Solution
Probably the quickest way to instantly stop her from being scared, was to just take her away from the thing that she was scared of (if I could). Of course, doing this doesn’t really help children to get over their frights, but it does temporarily fix the situation. So, if you absolutely need them to be calm, you can take them away, but know that fear will resurface later… read on.
Validating Without Exacerbating
It’s important to validate a child’s feelings and them know that you understand. Her fears may have seemed stupid to me, but to her, the fear takes over every ounce of her being and overrides all common sense. I don’t go on and on and on talking about her feelings, just acknowledge them.
“Stop Being Silly’ or ‘It’s ok”
You can say these things, and a child may seem to calm down, but the underlying fear will still be there and will resurface later. You’re also not validating their emotions. So, potentially, down the track, a child may stop expressing his or her natural emotions.
Relaxation Techniques for children over 8
You can try doing some simple breathing, yoga or meditation with a child over 8. Some calming essential oils, like lavender, is nice too. Doing simple relaxation and stress reducing techniques with kids is more of a long term and ongoing investment with lots of benefits. Eventually, they will learn to apply the stress relieving techniques to the stressful situation when they get older. Also, teaching them ways to deal with stress when they are young, will help them overcome obstacles when they are adults. Just by bringing awareness to how they’re feeling helps tremendously. The Art of Living Foundation offers excellent courses, which I have taught few of, for children, that teaches life skills.
Letting the Emotions Rolls
When a child is having an extreme reaction, like crying, sweating, shaking, etc. They are actually healing themselves from the trauma being scared. You can’t always keep a child away from a scary situation and in fact, many psychologists expose a patient to the thing they are scared of (in a safe scenario) to help them have this emotional release through tears. Letting a child have a cry, with support, is probably one of the most beneficial things you can do!
With Margo’s intense fear of dogs, I also did some roll playing with her and it was probably the technique that showed the fastest results. I pretended to be the dog and she pretended to be scared… Then SHE pretended to be the dog and I pretended to be scared. Roll playing should only be done if the child laughs (and then maybe cries afterwards), but if you are roll playing and the child seems to get even more frightened, then maybe best to modify the exercise or stop so that the roll playing does its job.
This Too Shall Pass
The mantra of all people who deal with kids. What I’ve found is that the fears come and go. The tendencies of a child change, and they change quickly. I truly believe that the more we support our kids when they’re going through an intense time with fears, then the faster they will overcome them (however long that takes). So, a reminder to myself and to all parents and carers who have to deal with a child’s intense fears… DEEP BREATHES! More than half the battle to the irrational fear-factor is when we, the adult are accepting of the situation. Once we can accept that a child is afraid of something, rather than continue on, in frustration (like we normally do), then we can move from a space of love and understanding and the ‘fear factor‘ becomes less of a struggle.
Disclaimer: For some kids, fears go a bit deeper. I’m certainly not a child psychologist. Sometimes a child’s fears could be deep rooted stress and have lots of other factors to consider, such as health, home life, diet, etc. Please seek professional help if you believe that your child is unusually anxious or nervous too often.