When a child suffers from anxiety and fears we as parents suffer too. It can be heartbreaking to see your little one cry over issues that we, as adults, know are completely irrational. But you might wonder how to help children who have irrational fears? Things such as separation anxiety, fear of the dark, and the like are common for toddlers. However, knowing how to handle the issues by talking to your child appropriately can help ease their worries and help them overcome their fears.
Anxieties regarding separation tend to fluctuate throughout toddler years with the period of extreme neediness happening between 18 months and 2 ½ years. But other irrational fears can follow children though much of their school years causing issues that may interfere with social development. Although it may not feel like it right now, the good news is, your child can eventually grow out of it. The following are tips to help.
1) Talk About The Big Event
Whether it is a trip on an airplane, a sleepover, or swimming lessons, long before the event, talk about it with your child. Let him have plenty of time to think about it and ask questions. Discuss the fun he will have and even talk him through the event. “You are going to have so much fun spending the night at your friend’s house! I’ll bet they have toys we don’t have at our house.” You can even discuss where you will be during that time. “Mommy will be watching from the chairs so she can see what a good swimmer you are!” or “What special snack do you want to eat on the airplane?” By talking up the occasion, he is more likely to be prepared when the experience happens. You can also go over different scenarios and outcomes to help him feel like he has a plan for everything.
2) Stay Calm
This one can be tough. You may be exhausted but your child swears he saw a monster in his closet, even if it’s 2am and he or she is clinging on you tightly, try to stay as calm as possible. The more upset you get, the more uncomfortable the situation will become. Your child knows that she isn’t making this easy for you and the more she complains or cries, the longer she has your attention (and company). By staying calm you are forcing your child to settle down. When you are using a gentle, quiet voice, he or she won’t be able to hear you over her screaming. He or she will need to quiet to hear what you have to say.
3) Keep Your Promises
Give your child something to hold while you are away, during an overnight visit to Grandma’s, while at the doctor, etc., to remind her of you. Whether it’s a soft blanket, a toy or even a picture of you, having something with them can make the experience less harsh. Also, consider giving your child a kitchen timer or even a kid-size watch so they know exactly how long they will be in the experience. Always, always, do your best to keep your promises. If you say you’ll be watching their entire swim class, don’t get up to make a business call. If you say you’ll be back to pick them up from day care at 5pm, be there on time. When a child knows they can trust you when you say, “I’ll be back as soon as Sesame Street is over,” they are less likely to have negative thoughts and more likely to handle the time on their own.
4) Don’t Tell Them Their Fears are Irrational
It can be very tempting to say things like “That is just silly! You’re silly for thinking there is a monster under your bed!” No matter how absurd the fear, it is extremely real to them. Instead, try to reason with them and explain why there could never be a monster under their bed, why you’d never leave them at day care and never come back, or whatever fear they have.
Handling your child’s irrational fears and anxieties can be difficult, but if you talk to your child gently and work through the issues with reasoning and understanding, they are more likely to overcome the issues faster. Just stay calm and rest assured there is hope- there’s a very low chance of them still being afraid of hey monsters by the time they get to college!