What to Do When Your Kid is Afraid of Everything
Empathize and listen.
Parents are fixers by nature, and sometimes this means that we forget to slow down and listen. We get so busy trying to find the solution that we don’t necessarily hear what our kids are trying to tell us.
Listen more than you speak when dealing with childhood fears. When you listen to and empathize with your child, you give him the opportunity to work through his fears. When you attempt to fix the problem without listening or simply tell him not to worry, you shut him down.
Ground fears in reality.
Fears can stem from a feeling of no control. The child who fears dogs, for example, doesn’t know how to cope if a dog seems aggressive. That child isn’t sure how to know if a dog is friendly to kids or not or what to do if a dog does become aggressive. Avoidance feels safe because a positive outcome is guaranteed.
Information helps. Get to the library and find kid friendly books to help your child understand the triggers of his fears. When my kids were worried about hurricanes, a National Geographic book helped them make sense of them. It also helped them understand that huge hurricanes aren’t as common as they thought after Hurricane Sandy hit.
Rattling off statistics won’t necessarily help your kids with their fears, but learning together can reduce their anxiety.
Worriers like action plans. When you have a plan, you feel more in control of the situation.
Make a list of your child’s biggest fears (no, this won’t cause more fears) and start brainstorming together. If a child fears a house fire, make sure you establish and practice the escape plan (it’s a good idea to do this, anyway). If a child fears dogs, make a step-by-step plan for approaching a dog. You get the point.
The trick to dealing with specific fears is to proceed slowly and with tons of patience. Your child won’t kick a fear of spiders overnight, but time spent chipping away at it provides space from the source of the anxiety and allows practice with coping.