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Teaching kids the importance of facing their fears

This is a conversation that I’ve had a million times with my now ten-year-old son afraid of the dark. Afraid to be alone. Afraid someone will come into the house to hurt him. So why does it bother me so much?

As a parent (once a kid) I can relate to how my son feels. I don’t like the dark either. I also don’t like being alone all the time. But as a parent (now not a kid) I’ve come to realize just how debilitating fears can be if we let them get the best of us.

“Listen to mommy, you can’t let your fears control how you live your life. Mommy knows. Fear is the reason I didn’t get my driver’s license until this year at the age of forty-two.”

My son is ten and although he understands what I’m saying, all he can think about is his fears. Fear of losing me to cancer. Fear of being bullied. Fear of getting run over by a car for not paying attention. He even allows fears to get in the way of him trying new things. It’s truly heartbreaking and disheartening. So how can I fix it?

Exposure to fears helps lessen anxiety in kids

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The first step you can do is to expose your child to their fears without trying to push them over the edge. For my son, I stand at the top of the stairs and talk to him while he ventures somewhere in the house alone. I can hear the fear resonate in his voice, but each time he does this without me is a building block towards strengthening his own realization that the fear can’t harm him. 

Talk about the fear

Talking about our fears doesn’t make them go away, but it can help us face them a little more each day. Why are you afraid? What are you afraid of? What will happen if you do this? Or maybe this? Running through scenarios with your kids while planning strategies on how to face those fears can help build the confidence your child needs in order to get through things. 

Build a fear list or ladder

Get your child to build a fear list with you. I did this with my son. I got him to list his fears from the ones he was most afraid of to the least numbered zero to ten on the ladder. I told him together we would climb this ladder one step at a time.

For example: My son is afraid to be alone in a dark room. So we decided he’d be in a dark room with me just outside the door and a timer set for 10 seconds. The next time 20 seconds. The next time 30 seconds and so on.

We are now climbing that ladder to face his fears together, and because he is a part of this process and a part of coming up with a way to cope with it which he agreed upon. This gives him more control over his fears. 

Set goals for achieving fear steps

It’s important in life to be rewarded when we reach a goal. Facing fears is the same thing. It’s not a bribe. It’s a choice reward for accomplishing something difficult. So for example, a child afraid of talking to others might choose having a playdate with friends or video game time after reaching his goal of talking to someone for ten minutes. 

Work with your child to set these goals. 20 min in the dark alone. Saying hello to someone and shaking their hand. Being left alone for half hour at a friend’s house. Being on their bike for ten minutes no matter how much they fall. Achieving these goals and getting a reward strengthens the child’s resolve that fears are more in our head than anything and we can get past them.

The bottom line in dealing with fears in your child is to be understanding, listening, encouraging, and to be there every step of the way so your child doesn’t feel alone in their fears.

What are your kids afraid of?

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