The first step in helping your child overcome a fear or phobia is to recognise that it’s real. While it might seem trivial or irrational, to them it’s something that fills them with dread, increases their heart rate and causes anxiety. The worst thing you can do is to belittle their fear or try to force them to overcome it.
Understand There Doesn’t Have to be Reason
If your child has been stung by a wasp, it makes logical sense that they might be scared of wasps from that point onwards. However, fears and anxieties are not always that straightforward. It might not make sense to you why your child is terrified of dogs or cats when they have never experienced a negative situation involving those animals. There is no rational reason why your young child is terrified of only red balloons, but it’s something that triggers their fear response despite that.
Validate Their Fear & Build Confidence
Although it might seem odd to valid an irrational fear, doing so actually helps your child work through the emotion. This important step builds a stronger connection between you (the support system) and them. Acknowledging the intensity of their phobia or fear allows them to feel comforted and calm. Here is an example of something you could say to a child that is scared of dogs: “You don’t like it when the big dog barks do you? It makes you jump, doesn’t it? That’s really scary”.
You must then take it a step further and help them build confidence once you have validated it. How do you do this? Demonstrate your own confidence in regards to their fear. Go over and stroke the dog yourself and say something like, “Can you look at Mummy and see I’m not afraid?”. This works far better than saying something like, “You shouldn’t be scared of dogs” or “there is no need to be scared of dogs”.
Reduce Panic With Mindfulness
During those intense moments of extreme panic, we often can’t find words to calm down a child in distress. Don’t feel bad about this, during those moment words are simply not enough. Teaching your child some basic sensory mindfulness techniques can provide them with the tools to self-soothe during the panic. For example, teaching them to identify one smell, one sound and one blue item when they start to feel worried or panicked. Something as basic as this can help to bring them back to the present moment and connect with their surroundings during an attack of worry. Of course, they must identify sounds and smells that are not connected to their fear. Something other than the dog barking, something other than the dogs blue collar.
Don’t be alarmed by anxieties and fears in young children or even babies. Most fears are very normal and a lot more common than you might think. Babies often demonstrate a fear of strangers and don’t want to be held by new people straight away. Toddlers can suffer from separation anxiety. Children around the ages of 4-6 will commonly worry about made up creatures such as monsters and older children tend to worry more about real-life scenarios.