Parent's Guide to Overcome Childhood Fears

By: Dwight Bain, LMHC

Fear is a normal part of childhood – learning how to manage it is an important part of growing up.

Everyone feels fear. From six years old to sixty people worry and feel afraid. There are classic symptoms all children face, (listed below), which are indicators of the levels of anxiety a child may be facing. And did you know fear is such a common theme that the Bible has over 300 verses dedicated to facing fear and not staying afraid?

Emotional maturity takes place when a child learns to face their fears by managing these negative emotions through talking, praying, writing them out in words, drawings or other expressive arts. The more a child can learn to ‘replace’ their fears with facts or faith, the more confidence she will gain, and when she can learn the power of deep truth, like, Be strong and courageous. Do not fear... for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you”.(Deuteronomy 31:6)  When anxiety and fear is replaced by greater faith a child begins to grow into the confident adult they were designed to be.  

What does childhood fear look like?

Feeling afraid is a normal part of childhood, and can even be a protective emotion that can be an early alarm to warn of danger. The challenge is when a child feels anxious or nervous for no apparent reason, because those insecurities feed their fears as their confidence diminishes, leading to feeling weak and scared instead of developing greater self-confidence and emotional security. Because so many new experiences for children are tied to their school or sports performance, anxiety becomes a major roadblock for academic or social activities, and for some children will become a major roadblock in their personality development.

Is Childhood Anxiety Normal?

The short answer is yes. Researchers have found that up to 90% of children ages 2-14 feel some degree of being anxious at specific circumstances or experiences. These emotions are a normal part of their expanding world. Children who lack the ability to flow with these fears can become immobilized and unable to function or move forward. This becomes a real problem for more introverted or insecure children who remain silent when scared.  That is why tuned in parents find ways to help their children manage emotions. A simple illustration of this process can be seen in the Disney/Pixar film “Inside Out” (http://movies.disney.com/inside-out ) which demonstrates in very simple ways how a child thinks, and more importantly how to take control of negative emotions by replacing fears or sadness with greater joy.

Can my Child’s fears Affect their Health?
Absolutely; when a child is overwhelmed by negative fears and doubts it can affect them in many ways, including physical symptoms like excessive sweating, tummy aches, headaches, bladder or bowel challenges, racing heartbeat or the complete inability to fall asleep at night.  When a child learns how to flow with the normal emotions of childhood, especially new experiences, (remember how scared you were on the first day of school?) they mature and grow into the next stage of their development.  

Common Childhood Fears and Anxieties

Birth to 2 years, (Toddlers) are scared by loud noises, separation from parents, strangers, some large objects or costumed characters can also create fears at this age

3 to 6 years, (Preschoolers) are scared by fearful imaginations like monsters, ghosts, masks, shadows, the dark, sleeping alone, meeting new pets – especially large ones like dogs and extreme weather such as thunder and lightning

7 to 16 years, (School age) have increased fears across many areas like being left home alone, experiencing a parent or teachers anger, illness, shots, dentists, fear of parents divorce, spiders, snakes, bullies, peer rejection, failing at school and the more realistic fears of harm such as automobile accidents, someone in the family on drugs/alcohol, bullies and world events like terrorism.

Manage these fears with Replacement Routines

Birth to Toddlers need security and predictability. Have routines, rituals and similar patterns like bedtime, meals or story time or singing the same lullabies to create a predictable environment. Limiting the number of people who are in very close contact can help avoid a child being over stimulated.

Preschoolers need guidance on controlling their expanding imagination to know there are more than just monsters in the dark. They can learn to use their wonderful imagination to think of what isn’t in the dark, or what isn’t at the bottom of the lake. It’s just as easy to think ahead together about what is good, pure and right as it is things which are negative or hostile. Here is where parental example can shine in modeling and teaching self-control.

School age children are faced with incredible pressures from grades, to peers, to parents to rejection, to body-image to their parent’s marriages to loss of a home in foreclosure to theft or crime or school shooters. It can be an overwhelming time, so it is especially important to manage growing fear with growing faith and positive coping skills. Children in this group may benefit with professional counseling if anxiety symptoms become unmanageable.

Managing Fear with Maturity and Faith

At any age you can help a child understand the source of their fears, and when possible to use the phrase, “If you can talk through it you can get through it” so they can let their parents know what is going on inside. Here are some other techniques to guide your child out of fear by managing feelings with facts so they can grow past their fear with greater faith.

A simple way for younger children is to have them draw two pictures. One of them in the fearful situation, then to replace that fear in a second drawing showing them in a picture overcoming their fear. Some children respond better through writing, so helping them craft journals, prayer lists or even a happiness list of where they replace their fearful thoughts with happy and peaceful ones. Simple steps can take emotions bottled up inside in a new direction, which helps the child feel stronger and the parent feel more connected  to their son or daughter.

Sharing stories of how you managed childhood fears are a good conversation starter, but it’s just to create a connection that you are human too. The goal is for the child to express what’s inside and to know her parents understand how she feels. Keep it short and ask the question, “what else” to allow her to express as many negative emotions as possible so they don’t stay inside where they can hurt her.

Telling a child they have nothing to fear doesn’t actually make their fears go away – it makes things worse s0 learn to validate his emotions as ‘normal’ to help him move through the anxiety since all other kids his age are facing some of the same fears, (remember oral reports in English class – terrifying!)

Be creative with stories, films, songs, books or even stories of how your parents or grandparents faced major fears. Courage isn’t the absence of fear – it’s feeling the fear and moving forward. A girl who knows how strong her grandmother was in similar circumstances will find greater strength for a lifetime when she knows that strength runs in her family tree.

Drawing, prayer, music, scriptures, expressive arts, sports, youth group, even role playing with stuffed animals can help a child move past their fears. Try it all with a single goal in mind – how can I help my son or daughter get stronger?

Some fears may always be present, like public speaking, so focus on the things your child can control like her emotions. Learning to replace fear with facts, (Wikipedia says that millions of other people are just as scared as I was when facing the same situation), or replacing fear with greater faith like this promise from Isaiah 41:10, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Mastering the journey from childlike fear to adult like faith is what we would want for our children at any stage of life. Learning how to manage fear is the path to a life of confidence and calm. It’s a good path, but uphill all the way so let me challenge you to get started.  


About the Author – Dwight Bain is an author, counselor and certified life coach who helps people manage major change. Follow his daily posts for wisdom on Twitter or Instagram @DwightBain or www.Facebook.com/DwightBain www.LinkedIn.com/DwightBainwww.YouTube.com/DwightBain or at his blog, accessible through www.LifeworksGroup.org

Popular posts from this blog

Understanding Schizotypal Personality Disorder

Coping With a Grief Anniversary: 7 Tips