Helping kids cope with fears, phobias and being scared

Fear is one of the basic emotions, a physiological reaction designed by evolution to avoid dangerous or potentially dangerous situations. All children suffer from fear to some extent, and their fears are often related to specific everyday situations such as going to sleep, the dark, or even clowns, pigs or school. These fears change according to age, and thus their way of facing them also changes. It is important however to distinguish everyday fears from more pronounced phobia.

How is a phobia different from fear?

Phobias are defined as extreme fear and anxiety reactions to a specific stimulus. Anxiety is a reaction of the body to something that is threatening to us. It is a way of preparing ourselves to flee or attack. There are however lots of occasions where fear is activated by stimuli that are not dangerous. While fears and phobias are both normal reactions of the human body, managing them is still important, as they can have a negative impact at a personal and family level.

What are the most common childhood fears?

The most common fears amongst children are fears of the dark, monsters (or other fantastical creatures), being abandoned or left alone, school, animals, and visiting doctors and dentists.

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Stay calm

When facing fears with children, the most important thing is to stay calm, since they trust you to understand the world.

The secure presence of a calm adult is very reassuring for children and really helps to allay fears.
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Validate feelings

Guide children to recognise their fear and understand it as normal. You can start by helping them identify what causes their fear. It is positive to talk about the things that cause fear, as kids need to feel listened to by someone sympathetic.
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Face fears slowly and with an attitude of kindness.

Encourage your child to face their fears gradually (initially giving your help) and without any forcing. Praise courageous behaviour and then gradually (over time) step back so the child feels confident on their own.
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Notice any patterns of avoidance

Try to see if there are any repeating patterns of behaviour – is the child using the fear as a way to avoid doing something undesirable, or is there something else they are afraid of?

Again, be very gentle. They may need reassurance or help with the thing they’ve been avoiding. After getting the reassurance or support they need, the fear or phobia may fall away all by itself.

Help kids feel safe again

It is possible to help children overcome their fear by gradually exposing them to it. For example, if a child is afraid of dogs, you might offer your support and show that they don’t have to be afraid. If you are concerned, or if the fear seems serious, please seek professional advice from your medical doctor.
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Play and humour

It can sometimes be very helpful to use humour to help face fears. A good antidote for some kinds of fears is to transform frightening aspects of a person or situation into funny features through pictures and jokes.

This isn’t laughing at the child’s expense, but using playfulness to lighten the child’s feelings.

 

Best free books at Storyberries

Some free books about being scared

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Scared Tumi

Tumi is very frightened of many things. In this lovely story, Tumi describes his fears, and his mother helps to allay them with reassuring explanations.
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Brave Bora

A beautifully illustrated and reassuring story. Bora goes to have a vaccination. He takes along his toy monkey Jojo. Baba and the kind nurse both help Bora to feel calm and relaxed, and then he has his vaccine. Brave Bora!
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Who Stole Bhaiya’s Smile?

Bhaiya has a big black monster on his back. In this super story for 7-12 year olds, Bhaiya’s family help him deal with the heavy sadness that is weighing him down in a very clever way.
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The Shell-Shocked Turtle

Owen the turtle is frightened of everything! His sister helps him to face his fears and become confident once again.

Article by Luzmery M. Romero Gamboa and Fleur Rodgers

Luzmery Child Psychologist Storyberries

Luzmery works in the area of clinical psychology as a psychotherapist for children, adolescents and families. Since 2016, she has run a Psychological Center in Venezuela called Psicoluz. She offers workshop facilitations to parents, is involved in recreational activities for children, and has been working as a freelancer since 2017 performing online psychotherapy. 

Storyberries parenting portal author and mindfulness coach Fleur Rodgers

Fleur is a meditation teacher in France and uses a compassion and loving-kindness based approach to meditation and slow-minded living. Fleur posts regularly to Instagram @rodgers.fleur . She has two children, is a qualified teacher in adult education and is the founder of Timeouttobreathe.com