By Aprel Phelps-Downey
Dealing with childhood fear can be a constant battle. We want our kids to wake up and confidently face the day, but fear can prevent that from happening. Our children may attempt to appear brave and, for a moment, we think we’ve won. Then we catch a glimpse of nervousness on their face and know the battle is far from over.
Childhood fear can show up at any time. It comes with them to school, to new activities and to social interactions with their peers. As they grow older, the childhood fear may grow stronger along with them. Suddenly they no longer want to participate in something they used to love, and we watch helplessly as if there is a silent force consuming them.
Only we aren’t helpless. Learning how to remove fear from a child’s mind begins with a willingness to understand that fear. We can help them find the words to express what they feel. When we know what they feel, we can help them work to face that fear and overcome it.
Understanding Childhood Fear
When our child faces feelings of fear, they’re uncomfortable. This can also lead to anxiety, which makes fear worse. It goes from being something our child is afraid of to something our child wants to escape immediately. That escalation in feelings can leave us struggling to make the right parenting decisions.
We know that fear and anxiety are not necessarily bad things. For example, being fearful of cars will prevent our child from running out into traffic when their ball rolls into the street. But there is a big difference a healthy fear of dangerous situations and a crippling fear that lingers long after the threat is gone. Stepping back and working to understand their fear is the first step to overcoming unhealthy fear.
At first glance, the source of fear may seem silly or insignificant to us, but to them, that fear is as real as the toys in their room. Proper understanding comes from recognizing that fact and listening to them talk about it. Validating their feelings is an essential building block in working toward them overcoming that fear. It can help ease some of their anxiety as well.
The Importance of Overcoming Childhood Fear
As parents, we want to help our kids manage uncomfortable feelings. That being said, we walk a fine line between helping and hurting. Our first instinct is to help our child avoid fear, but doing so can be counter-productive. There are times when standing and facing that fear—with guidance from us—is the best thing they can do.
A key benefit from helping our child face their fear is the confidence that develops from doing so. They get the opportunity to see that a fearful thing is actually something they can handle. Building that confidence helps empower them to face other situations that seem scary at first. It helps them learn to take risks later in life. Facing those fears gives them the ability to take charge of their life by lessening the anxiety they feel and developing the confidence to accomplish any life obstacle they face.
How to Remove Fear from a Child’s Mind
Building that confidence in our child means guiding them to overcome a fear. It’s extremely important that we do this in a way that’s not overbearing. Belittling their feelings or brushing off their fear only adds to their anxiety. They will then struggle with keeping those feelings of fear and anxiety to themselves. When they do that, they’ll never learn to let go of those uncomfortable feelings.
It’s our job as parents to give them the tools to prevent that from happening. After talking openly with them about the fear, a good starting point is to gradually work with them on facing that fear. Let them determine how far to take each step. For example, they may be afraid of dogs but is willing to look at a picture of a dog online. Confronting this mild version of the fearful thing is the perfect time for us to teach them relaxation techniques. The next step could involve viewing dogs in a safe setting, such as a pet store. With each step, we should remind them to relax and understand that they aren’t in danger. By allowing them to gradually face a fear at a level they’re comfortable with, their anxious feelings can lessen as well.
Their positive steps toward facing a fear are strengthened by our encouragement. It’s our job to cheer them on by sharing supportive words such as “You’ve got this” and “Great job!” to reassure them to keep going. Remember being afraid of water as a child and how it felt tightly squeezing the hand of a parent while stepping your toes in. Try to recall how a few encouraging words from our parent along with supportive actions were all it took to help us slowly let go of that hand and give the water a try. We can draw on that experience now to help our child overcome their fear. Anger or discipline should never be our response to the process. Every step they take, even the small ones that seem insignificant to us, is still moving in the right direction.
When our child is fearful of something, their level of anxiety rises. We need to do what we can to lessen those feelings in a healthy way. We also need to understand—and explain to our child—that fear is not always a negative thing. We can help them see fear as proof that they’re discovering the wonders of the world. With the right guidance and support, that discovery eventually turns into bravery, allowing them to navigate new adventures in life with confidence.
Aprel Phelps Downey is a brand storyteller, author, and writer with a Bachelor of Science in marketing from the University of South Florida. She resides in Eastern Tennessee with her husband and daughter.