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Spray Away Your Child’s Fears
Help Your Child Overcome Their Fear of Fears
Now that Halloween is over, parents have been scaring me with questions about their toddler’s fears: fear of monsters, fear of clowns, and fear of things that go bump in the night. Well let me try to have the courage to answer some of those questions and provide some fearless advice on the problem.
Toddlers develop fears largely because they have an active imagination, growing independence, and yet have difficulty distinguishing fantasy from reality. Telling your child that he or she shouldn’t be afraid only adds to the fear that they can’t talk about it with you. Forcing a child to confront a fear cold turkey is also unproductive, as is totally protecting your child from confronting whatever is causing the fear. Therefore, the goal is to gradually help your child overcome the fear with practice, practice, and more practice.
Asking your child to talk about why he or she’s afraid may help. The best plans are those that empower your child by helping him or her find a way to transform or banish the object of the fear. Here are a few ideas for common fears:
- Monsters: Give your child a spray bottle filled with water and call it “monster spray” that your child can use to banish monsters. Or, have your child draw a picture of a friendly monster to put on their room door or the front door of the house or apartment.
- Thunder: Banging on a pot or pan during a storm may help.
- Clowns: Watching a person your child knows dress up as a clown may help them overcome this fear.
- Darkness: A night light may be all it takes for conquering fear of the dark.
If your child overcomes the fear, praise them, and if not, don’t add to the stress by criticizing them or denying the fear exists.
Parents—you need to be good role models. Just because your child fears something doesn't mean you should as well. Finally, if these suggestions don't appear to help and your child's fear seems out of proportion to the cause for the stress, please talk to your child's doctor. In rare circumstances, this level of fear or anxiety might warrant additional counseling.
Hopefully tips like this will not make you afraid of helping your child deal with his or her fears.
Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at Vermont Children's Hospital at Fletcher Allen Health Care and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. You can also catch "First with Kids" weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at http://www.FletcherAllen.org/firstwithkids