Step 1 – Managing Fears and Anxieties
About This Module
All children will experience fear during their childhood. Much of this fear is healthy as fear signals there is a potential hazard. Fear prompts us to look before crossing the road, to be cautious not to touch hot things and to avoid hurting ourselves.
Some fear however can become all-consuming for children. Parents often find it difficult to understand these unrealistic or imaginary fears, seeing them as irrational. But to a young person with much less life experience and a very active imagination, these childhood fears are very real. As parents, the way we react when our child becomes scared or anxious has a direct impact on how they learn to cope in these situations. Our reaction can either reduce or increase how frightened and anxious our child is.
The coping mechanisms learnt during the mid-childhood years are what stay with us through adulthood, so now is the perfect time to teach your child healthy strategies to manage their fears and anxieties.
What You'll Learn
Teach your child a set of coping skills to deal with everyday fears and anxieties.
Give you an approach to tackle your child’s persistent fears and anxieties.
Help your child build their confidence through positive self-talk.
Start your child on a journey to positive mental health.
My 6 year old son has suffered from anxiety for the past couple of years and we’ve been at a loss to know how to help him. We’ve just worked through the WeParent module and it has not only helped us to better understand the issue, but guided us to know how we should react to help him during an episode, and most importantly given him tools to help himself.
Our step-by-step, easy to follow strategies are designed by our team of psychologists. Unlimited access to all our strategies is available in your WeParent Membership.
CALM AND RELAX
When children are frightened they can quickly lose their ability to think clearly. Many parents tune in very closely to their child’s emotions and they find it hard to remain calm when their child is distressed. Or, parents find they are trying to be rational without first helping their child to calm down.
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The next step in helping your child to manage their fear is to teach them to vocalise it. Vocalising emotions helps your child process their fears and provides them with the skills to communicate that they are afraid calmly and without acting it out.
TACKLE PERSISTENT FEARS AND ANXIETIES.
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BUILDING POSITIVE SELF TALK
Persistent fears can cause our children to avoid situations and become anxious when they are forced to face them. Even the idea of a situation can start children feeling frightened or anxious. This comes from their self-talk telling them they need to be afraid and effectively convincing them to be afraid.
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DEALING WITH HAZARDS
In this strategy you are going to teach your child to tackle those situations that cause them to be scared or anxious by focussing on their own safety skills.
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Psychology Fun Facts
Fears are very common in children from the age of 2. Fear is a vital emotion for our survival, alerting us to any dangers and protecting us from harm. Infants start to experience fear set off by things such as loud noises or separation. From around the age of 4 years, a child’s imagination starts to develop and, with that, so does a child’s fear. Out of the blue, a child might become scared of the dark or of monsters under their bed. The fears of a child aged about 6 years can become based on real circumstances, such as natural disasters a child hears about on TV.
About 40% of children experience persistent fears about one or more things. Most children continue to experience fears until around the age of 10. With help, children can overcome most fears within 3 months. On the other hand, if fears are dismissed or left unmanaged then children can continue to be fearful well into their teenage years and beyond.
Helping a child to manage their fears will reduce the likelihood they will suffer from anxiety that lasts a lifetime.
A fear is a normal and healthy reaction to a current situation or object that we perceive as being threatening and a hazard that is likely to produce harm. As fear produces an emotional reaction of discomfort, children are motivated to avoid things they fear.
Anxiety is a generalised worry about events that might occur in the future. Anxieties are based on a child’s thoughts and beliefs about situations. Managing anxieties requires distinct strategies. Helping your child to manage fears is a useful step to reducing anxiety.
Fear is a healthy signal that something could go wrong. Fear is a signal for a child to slow down and to examine a situation carefully taking the time to approach it and safely or avoid the situation altogether.
It is both normal and healthy for people to feel some fear. Children who lack fear are likely to act in impulsive and reckless ways that endanger themselves. On the other hand, children with excessive fear avoid situations unnecessarily and miss out on things.
Some children become preoccupied with their feelings of fear and focus their attention too much on their own internal body reactions and feelings of distress.
Problems arise if either:
- a child becomes preoccupied with their internal reactions and feelings of distress as this reduces their capacity to pay attention to the external situation that produced their fear. Or,
- a child becomes preoccupied with unhelpful thoughts about what might happen next.
It’s important to focus a child’s attention to analysing events in the external world rather than focusing solely on their own feelings. A child can be encouraged to analyse events in their external world by talking about their overall experience of fear, giving a balance to both external triggers and their internal emotional reactions and thoughts.
Once a child has talked about an external event that triggered their fear, they can move on to talk about ways to manage the situation that set off their fear.
Healthy Fears vs Unrealistic Fears.
Fear is a natural and healthy reaction to a hazard that signals to us there might be a danger. It’s important not to try and eliminate fear altogether from our children. Instead teaching children to distinguish realistic from unrealistic fears.
A fear is unrealistic when a child’s reaction is disproportionate to a trigger or hazard. When a child’s response is disproportionate, they will either:
- Over-estimates or exaggerates the likelihood that harm will occur, or
- Exaggerates the extent of damage or harm that will be done, or
- Doubts their ability to manage a hazard.
For example, a healthy fear of cars is fundamental to learning road safety. However, an unrealistic fear of cars will hinder your child’s ability to learn to cross a road safely.
Giving your child behaviour help on all emotions
When a child is learning to express their fear, WeParent recommend helping them to express a range of emotions including positive emotions of happiness, pride and gratitude. By talking about positive emotions, your child develops a habit of focusing on the good things happening to them, and not focusing solely on the negatives. A focus on positive emotions prevents your child from becoming preoccupied with fears and making them worse.
Where to next?
WeParent’s approach is to encourage your child to pay attention to their fears and anxieties rather than to ignore them.
So, now it’s time to work step by step through each of the strategies in turn. You are going to work with your child to bring their feelings of fear to a low and manageable level and to help them manage both their internal thoughts and feelings and learn coping skills to deal with their fears and anxieties.
Let’s start with the first step – Calm & Relax.