Children's fears can seem puzzling to adults at times. I know a child who was afraid of Elvis. Scared to death he was going to have a personal Elvis sighting, I guess. He heard of people who claimed to have seen Elvis, but his parents told him that Elvis was dead. A natural fear, I say, from the understanding of a child.
Some more common childhood fears are of darkness, animals, storms, fire, water, or strangers. Many children have fears that they or their parents will be hurt or killed. Also common is the child's fear of new situations, such as starting a new school.
Strategies to Help Your Child Cope with Fears
- Try to get the child to verbalize his fears. Listen, then without being critical, help him think through the realities rationally. Bringing fears to the light of day by sharing them with someone they trust helps kids overcome irrational, unrealistic thoughts.
- Find some children's books with the theme of children facing their fears to help him learn coping strategies and to start conversations about his own fears. The Berenstain Bears series includes some good ones. We also like Mercer Mayer's Little Critter books, especially There's a Nightmare in My Closetand, of course, Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are.
- If your child has been traumatized by the tragedies other children have suffered, or by scary incidents in her own life, you can take several steps to help her feel safe and secure. Make your home a safe haven with frequent contact between you and the child. Quiet routines and an emphasis on family rituals and traditions are ways to reduce stress and have fun together.
- Don't force a child to confront head-on a deeply held fear. You can make the situation worse. Take your cue from therapeutic practices that introduce elements of the fearful situation to the child gradually, always in a supportive, safe environment. Time will usually do the trick.
- If your child continues to exhibit fearful behavior through more than one developmental period, or his fears impede his normal, healthy development, seek help from a qualified mental health professional who has experience in childhood issues.