7 ways to work on fear with children

Fear is an inherent part of growing up, but as a parent, it can be daunting to watch your child grapple with it. From fear of the dark to anxiety about starting a new school, children’s fears come in all shapes and sizes. And while we can’t shield them from every fear, we can certainly equip them with tools to cope better.

In this article, I’m sharing seven effective strategies that I’ve used and seen work wonders on helping children overcome their fears. These are tried and tested approaches, informed by both professional advice and personal experience as a yoga practitioner and parent.

Every child’s fear is real to them. It’s up to us as parents to provide them with the tools they need to confront these fears. So let’s dive into these strategies that will help you guide your child through their fears towards confidence and strength.

1. Practicing empathetic listening

Empathetic listening is about creating a safe space where your child feels comfortable expressing their fears. Start by acknowledging their fear without judgment or dismissal. For instance, you could say something like, “I understand why you’re scared of the dark. It can seem scary when we can’t see what’s around us.”

Avoid telling your child that their fear is silly or that they have nothing to worry about. This can make them feel misunderstood or invalidated, which could make their fear even stronger. Instead, reassure them that it’s okay to feel scared and that you’re there to help them through it.

Open communication is key. Encourage your child to talk about their fears by asking open-ended questions. You could ask, “Can you tell me more about what scares you?” or “What does it feel like when you’re scared?” This helps your child express their feelings and gives you valuable insights into how they’re experiencing fear.

The goal of empathetic listening is to create a supportive environment where your child feels understood and safe. This will make them more open to learning and practicing strategies to manage their fears effectively.

2. Creating a safe and comforting environment

A safe and comforting environment plays a significant role in helping children manage their fears. Children need to know that they are safe and that their feelings are valid. This sense of security can help reduce anxiety and make it easier for them to face their fears.

Creating a safe space involves both physical and emotional aspects. Physically, ensure that your child’s surroundings are comfortable and free from elements that might trigger their fears. For example, if your child is scared of the dark, a small nightlight in their room might provide comfort.

Emotionally, provide reassurance and love. Regularly remind your child that you are there for them, ready to help whenever they feel scared. Show understanding and empathy when they express their fars, reinforcing the idea that it’s okay to be frightened.

You are your child’s safe haven. Your presence, attention, and understanding can make a world of difference to a child struggling with fear.

3. Encouraging gradual exposure

Gradual exposure involves slowly and systematically exposing your child to the thing they’re afraid of, helping them become more comfortable with it over time.

The key to successful gradual exposure is to start small and work your way up. Let’s say your child is scared of dogs. You might start by reading a book about friendly dogs, then watching a movie featuring dogs. Eventually, you might visit a pet shop to see small dogs from a distance, and later on, you could arrange a controlled encounter with a friendly dog.

It’s important to ensure each step feels manageable for your child. If any step causes too much anxiety, it’s okay to take a step back and spend more time on the previous stage. The aim is to help your child build confidence and resilience at their own pace.

4. Using storytelling

Storytelling can be a creative and engaging way to help your child work through their fears. Stories, especially those with relatable characters and situations, can help children understand their fears better.

When telling a story, you can create a character who experiences the same fear as your child. As the story progresses, this character can learn to manage their fear, providing a model for your child to emulate.

The story doesn’t have to be complex. Even simple narratives can have a profound impact. The key is to make the story relatable and reassuring. For instance, a story about a small rabbit who’s afraid of the dark but learns to use his night light and the company of his friends to feel safe can be very comforting for a child who shares a similar fear.

Remember to end the story on a positive note, showing that it’s possible to overcome fears. This could instill hope and courage in your child, encouraging them to face their own fears.

5. Modeling fearless behavior

As parents, we are our children’s first role models. They learn by watching us, and this includes how we handle fear and anxiety.

Demonstrating that it’s possible to confront our fears encourages them to do likewise. If you’re scared of spiders but demonstrate calmness when one is present, your child will take note of your reaction.

This doesn’t mean suppressing or hiding your fears. It’s about showing them appropriate ways to manage these fears. When they see you handling fear in a positive way, they’ll be more likely to replicate that behavior.

Modeling fearless behavior also involves showing your child that it’s okay to make mistakes and that failures are opportunities to learn and grow. This can reduce their fear of failing or making mistakes.

Children are always watching and learning from us. Let your actions teach them that fear is a part of life, but it doesn’t have to control their lives.

6. Empowering with knowledge

Sometimes, the root of fear is simply the unknown. Things that are new, different, or unfamiliar can be scary for kids.

I believe that knowledge can be an empowering tool against fear. When a child understands what they’re afraid of, it can help dispel the fear.

When your child is scared of the dark, teach them about night and day, explain why it gets dark, and show them that darkness is a natural part of life. You could also explore the night together, showing them the beauty of the stars and moon.

By turning something scary into a learning experience, you’re not just helping your child overcome their fear – you’re also fostering their curiosity and love for learning. It’s truly a win-win situation!

7. Teaching them coping strategies

Coping strategies are techniques that can help your child manage their fear and reduce their anxiety.

One effective strategy is deep breathing. Teach your child to take slow, deep breaths when they’re feeling scared. This simple technique can help calm their mind and body.

You can teach them to use visualization. Encourage them to imagine a safe and happy place whenever they’re feeling scared. This can help shift their focus away from the fear.

Another important coping strategy is self-talk. Teach your child to say positive affirmations like “I am brave” or “I can handle this”. Positive self-talk can help boost their confidence and reduce fear.

These are just a few examples of coping strategies. There are many more techniques out there, and the key is to find what works best for your child.

Arm your child with these strategies and encourage them to practice regularly. With time and practice, they’ll be better able to manage their fears.

Final thoughts: The power of love and understanding

At the heart of every fear lies an opportunity for growth and learning. As adults, we have a responsibility to guide our children through their fears with empathy, patience, and love.

Remember that renowned child psychologist, Haim Ginott’s words, “Children are like wet cement. Whatever falls on them makes an impression.” Our reactions to their fears can leave lasting impacts on them. It’s our job to ensure these impressions are positive and empowering.

Fear is not always a negative emotion to be eradicated, but rather an emotion to be understood and navigated. By helping our children face their fears, we are teaching them resilience, courage, and the power of perseverance.

In the end, it’s not about eliminating fear but equipping our children with the tools to handle fear in a healthy way. It’s showing them that even in their most vulnerable moments, they are not alone. They have you by their side – their biggest cheerleader, their safe haven.

As we journey with them through their fears, we’re not just helping them grow – we’re growing with them too. And that is the beauty of parenthood.


Tina Fey

Tina Fey

Tina Fey is a nomadic writer with a background in psychology, specializing in child development. Born and raised in diverse cultural settings, she developed a deep understanding of human behavior and the intricacies of parenting. Driven by her passion for helping others, Tina now contributes to Careful Parents, offering practical advice and insights drawn from her expertise and experiences. Through her articles, she aims to empower parents with effective strategies for nurturing healthy relationships and fostering their children's growth.

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