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Help children face their fears
Posted: November 2, 2010
Last Updated: November 2, 2010

For children the familiar can become a terrifying unknown: a dark room can house ghosts and ghouls; a bedroom closet can be a haven for monsters; and from beneath the bed can creep nightmares. To adults these childhood terrors might seem insignificant, but to children they are very real. Itís important for parents to help children face their fears and support them through developing through the imaginative to the real.


Most adult romanticize childhood as a idyllic time of innocence and happiness. That is true to some extent, but it is also true it can be scary to be a child. Adults tower over you; you are powerless as others, usually adults, make all your decisions for you; you are clueless on how things happen; and the imaginative world can seem more real than the Real World when being read storybooks every night.


Most childhood fears begin to develop between the ages of 2 and 3 years old when child becomes self-aware (part of the reason for the Terrible Twos as the child realizes their desires differ from those of their parents). Fear of the dark is one of the first, primal fears most children experience. Things luring in unseen areas, like closets, dark rooms or beneath the bed, is another early fear.


 Parents can help their children face these fears and gain self-assurance to deal with problems that in adult life can be bigger than the monster under the bed.


First, and foremost, donít play into the childís fears or berate the child for their belief.  Listen to what the child has to say with respect and offer assurance, but donít chastise the child so he or she feels guilty or ashamed.  Recognize that something more is at play in the situation and try these tips to help the situation:


Explain fear: Children are learning about emotions and might not understand fear, or that everyone experiences it.  Help them understand what they feel has an name and is normal.


Offer reassurance: Reassure the child the dark is normal, even needed for plants to grow and people to rest. With electricity lighting the night, sometimes the dark can seem unnatural to a child. Donít tease or belittle. The monster might not be real, but the childís fear is. If you check the closet for monsters show the child their shoes, and never hint that the monster could be real. Demonstrate the reality; donít play into the fantasy.


Empower the child: Give the child the power to tackle the fear without playing into the fear. Offer to check in while the child sleeps, and the child can pick what time you check on them. Would the child like to be checked on in an hour, or a few minutes? A blanket or toy can also offer comfort, even a nightlight so all those unfamiliar shadows in the room are less scary.


Make bedtime soothing: No television before bedtime or scary books. Instead focus on something relaxing, a soft song, a nice story, or a comforting discussion.


Donít ignore larger problems: Stress can cause anyone anxiety, especially children. Divorce, a death of a pet or birth of a new baby can increases childrenís anxiety and their fears. Be aware.


Most children will get over their fears with a few weeks of support and understanding. Occasionally a childís fears and phobias are so severe that they have a very negative impact on a childís ability to function or happiness. This suggests the excessive fears could be a response to some sort of undiagnosed stress. In such circumstances, parents may want to seek advice from their physician or a mental health provider.


For more information on childhood fears and how to help a child through them you can call Border Area Mental Health Services. To reach Border Area Mental Health Services in Grant and Hidalgo Counties, call 388-4412; in Catron County, call 533-6649 for referral; in Luna County, call 546-2174.  For CRISIS, call 538-3488 or outside Silver City, call 1-800-426-0997.

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© 2008 by Border Area Mental Health Services and Putting the Web to Work. Front-page photo copyright by Bob Pelham, Pinos Altos Cabins, and used by permission. All rights reserved. For the privacy and comfort of our clients and staff, the photographs used in this site are representative and do not show specific individuals associated with BAMHS.