Helping Kids Overcome Their Fears and Phobias

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Children love the fantasy and fun of dressing up in costumes and Halloween is usually an exciting and fun event for them

By Patti Teel

love the
fantasy and fun of dressing up in costumes and Halloween is usually an exciting
and fun event for them.  During October, however, the television networks
begin running their annual horror flicks.  Remember, young children still
have trouble differentiating real life from make believe and many scary movies
should be “off limits.” 

A number of
children have developed deeply rooted fears from watching movies that were too
adult and scary. It can also be upsetting for children to see adults wearing
terrifying masks or costumes.  So enjoy the whimsy of the Halloween
but protect kids from the scary sights and sounds that could upset

By nature, some
children seem to have more fears than others.  When the word “fear” is
used correctly, it refers to the feeling experienced in response to a tangible
danger, such as a speeding car or an angry dog. 
Phobias” are excessive
or exaggerated fears of specific objects or situations.  Common childhood
(or phobias) include a fear of the dark, dogs, heights, spiders, and

Jean Piaget is
well known for his research regarding children`s cognitive development. 
He calls ages two to four the “preoperational period” of development.  It
is characterized by reason being dominated by perception.  This explains
why preschoolers are often afraid of the dark and imaginary creatures such as


Piaget`s research
revealed that around the age of six or seven, children`s thinking begins to
become more logical.  Not surprisingly, around this age, children usually
lose their fear of imaginary creatures but may become worried about other types
of things such as school performance and social relationships.  Encourage
your children to tell you about their fears.  If your child`s fear is
having a negative impact on his life, there are steps you can take to help your
child overcome it early on.


Many adult fears
begin in childhood

avoiding feared objects and activities tends to increase rather that diminish
the level of fear associated with them.  We can see many examples of
this-a fear of drowning is not likely to lessen by avoiding water; a fear of
flying is not going to go away by avoiding airplanes; and a fear of school is
not going to go away by allowing a child to stay home. 

Children often
generalize their fears
For example, a child is likely to think that
all dogs are mean and unfriendly after a frightening experience with just one
dog.  A friendly golden retriever may happily approach a child with his
tail wagging, but the child with a fear of dogs is likely to perceive the dog
as a mean animal that is coming to attack.  If a fear is not overcome, a child
may begin to generalize it further and develop phobias about other types of
animals in addition to dogs. 

Some fears must be
confronted and dealt with because they will interfere with a child`s daily
life.  Other phobias may not have to be confronted very often.  Even
when that is the case, beware that you can unwittingly teach your children to
have the same phobias that you have.  My husband and I have a rat
phobia.  I have generalized my fear to include opossums, hamsters,
gerbils, and other rodents. 
Years ago, when we had a pet rabbit, he could
even give me the creeps!  While it seemed to me that I was only being a
conscientious mother by passing along the dangers of rats to my daughter, when
she screamed and came running out of her first-grade classroom in a panic
because the teacher had a pet rat, I realized that I had probably overdone

Much more so than
the actual events themselves, children`s reactions to fear and anxiety will
affect the quality of their lives, both emotionally and physically.  Their
response can lead to personal growth, or it can impair that emotional
When children respond to the emotions of fear and anxiety by
becoming stressed, it can affect their ability to be happy and experience
pleasure.  Because we cannot control all of the things that will happen in
our children`s lives, it`s important for us to help them learn healthy ways to


Reactions to fear
can include: shortness of breath, fast breathing, a racing heart, a tightness
in the chest, a lump in the throat, butterflies in the stomach,
lightheadedness, dizziness, shaking, trembling, tingling feelings, a surreal
feeling that things seem strange and tightening muscles. 


Steps to
overcoming fears and phobias:

    relaxation and self-calming skills such as progressive relaxation, breathing
    techniques, and visualization.

    your child.  By
    gradually exposing your children to their fears, you will be helping them
    to take progressive steps toward overcoming them.

    Clear up
    misconceptions.  Many fears are based on misconceptions.  For instance, many children
    are afraid of thunder, but if you explain what it is the fear will begin
    to give way to curiosity.

Dubbed “The Dream
Maker” by People magazine, Patti Teel is a former teacher and the author of The Floppy Sleep Game Book, which
gives parents techniques to help their children relax, deal with stress, or
fall asleep. Her innovative book also includes a section on ways to
combat children`s fears, phobias, and anxiety. Visit Patti online to subscribe
to her free newsletter and learn more about her book.

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