By Mary Beth Sammons - Jan 13, 2012
Mary L.'s son is afraid to get on the school bus. As this Circle of Moms member recalls, "While we were standing there waiting for the bus, some other kids started physically fighting and he saw it and he absolutely refused to get on."
With so many headlines highlighting the issue of bullies on the bus, it’s not uncommon these days for kids to harbor this particular anxiety. But fear of the school bus is just one of the common phobias Circle of Moms members find their grade school-age kids struggling with. Others include fears of tests, the dark, and flying; of barking dogs, and of death.
But even if your child is afraid of something more unusual, the remedies are often the same. Here, Circle of Moms members share tips to help children who are struggling with fears and phobias.
1. Reassure Them That They're Normal
Many moms report that kids tend to relax at least a little when they don't feel alone in their fears. Linda H., Tracie D., and Alicia K. all suggest letting your child know that his fear is perfectly normal. Tracie tells her daughter that "it's okay to be afraid of things. Everyone is afraid of something. But it's not okay to let that fear control her." And Alicia K., whose 7-year-old son is afraid of dying, reassures him that "most people are afraid of dying.”
2. Empower Them with Knowledge
Another way to face fears is to look them squarely in the eye. Tracie, who describes herself as a "knowledge is power" kind of parent, suggests equipping your child with information about whatever he is afraid of: "We do research. . . to take some of the mystery out of it. So far it’s been bees, spiders, ghosts and monsters. I have her practice visualizing her fear in a silly way (spider wearing a dress and a hat with a feather doing a jig) to ease the tension."
For kids who are afraid of dying or of losing a parent or grandparent, Alicia K. recommends addressing the fear in an honest and matter of fact way. ”My seven-year-old. . . is afraid of dying or of those close to him dying. I cannot alleviate this fear or reassure him that we will not die. I usually tell him that we are pretty healthy and should do things to keep [ourselves] healthy, like eat right and exercise. I have done relaxation with him and encouraged him not to live his life in fear, but I will not lie to him. I cannot predict the future.”
3. Encourage Them to Face the Fear
Another way to alleviate a child’s fears is to gradually increase his exposure to whatever it is that he fears while staying at his side and comforting him. Several Circle of Members report that they've had success with this approach and that their kids gave up their fears more readily if they were both encouraged and supported through the process.
Cathi S., whose son was afraid of dogs, recommend direct exposure. As she explains, “You need to take him to a family member's house and/or a friend’s house [where there is] a dog and slowly reintroduce him to dogs. You need to let him know that not all dogs will attack you and show him as well.”
Linda H. used a similar but more intense form of confrontation to confront the fear of dogs: she got a dog for her son. While he quickly embraced his new pet, he "was fearful at first if another dog approached" when they were out walking. She reports though that "after a few times out he was fine" and that he is now "a changed boy."
4. Teach Self-Soothing
Tracie D. and Alicia K. both recommend equipping your child with self soothing skills so that he can calm himself down and think more clearly while facing a fear. Tracie, the mom who gives her daughter lots of information about the things she fears, says they also work on relaxing using breathing techniques. "The combination really seems to work and she has become quite good at controlling her emotions, which benefits her in many other situations as well.”
5. Give Your Child As Much Control as Possible
Many kids, including Mindy F.'s 16-year-old daughter, are afraid of the dark well beyond the toddler years. For kids with night phobias, Mindy has found that giving her daughter the option of keeping a light on — or even the TV — is usually "enough to empower her." Mindy explains that "whatever she feels comfortable having in her control is what I allow," because kids can so easily "feel overwhelmed by the unknown.”