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Addressing Children’s Fears and Anxieties Without Shrugging Them Off

Joyful Musings--a weekly blog

Joyful Parenting Coaching is focused on clarity, consistency, connection, being an effective parent, finding balance as a parent, and above all being a confident and joyous parent. Topics include communication, having difficult conversations, having constructive conversations, chores, routines, family meetings,  I teach parent education and parenting classes because parenting is a skill—not something we are born knowing. Get the parenting skills you need today!

Addressing Children’s Fears and Anxieties Without Shrugging Them Off

Elisabeth Stitt

A guest post by Tyler Jacobson

Growing up, I used to hate making class presentations. Just the thought of standing there talking in front of my classmates was enough to make me feel sick. Eventually, I learned how to talk in front of crowds and these days I’m okay with public speaking even though I still get butterflies sometimes.

My teen son recently made me recall the sheer terror of being asked to give a presentation in class. He had a class presentation coming up. It was part of an assignment and what he scored would count towards his final grade.

He was anxious about it and was terrified of making a mistake that would make him a laughingstock. In my own way, I tried to bolster his courage but then I realized I wasn’t handling the situation well at all. I allowed my past experience and my own victory over the fear of public speaking to desensitize me from my son’s anxiety. I figured that since I’d done it, he could overcome his fear as well.

Of course, my initial lack of empathy didn’t help and I had to check myself and adjust my approach. Once I remembered how anxiety-inducing those experiences were for me, I was able to be more understanding of my son’s plight.

As parents, we are sometimes guilty of allowing our hindsight to cloud our reaction to our kids’ fears and anxieties. We forget that what’s easy for us might appear totally different to them and so we need to handle their situations differently.

Here are some of the ways to do this:

Gradually exposing children to fears.

Some parents who believe in tough love think that suddenly exposing kids to their fears will help them overcome them. Unfortunately, this can do more harm than good and can push a child who is struggling with anxiety to develop a full-blown anxiety disorder.

When your kid is terrified of something, helping them face their fears is certainly the best thing to do. However, there are better, less scary ways of going about it. For instance, if your kid is scared of diving into the deep end, you could start by letting her swim in the shallow end, gradually working her way to the deeper side of the pool. Introducing less anxiety-provoking situations or activities first gives your child time to master their anxiety and gain confidence before facing bigger fears.

Providing lots of encouragement and positive feedback.

Similarly, ridiculing, shaming and name-calling is not the way to go when trying to address your child’s fears or anxieties. Doing so only further distresses your child, adding to their burden.

Instead, use lots of encouragement and praise and watch your child flourish. When they’re about to face their fear, commend them for their bravery and let them know you’re there should they need your assistance. Additionally, reward them for any progress they make. The reward can be something as simple as a high five or a special treat.

Not pushing or nagging if they decide not to face their fears.

It’s also important to go at your child’s pace. They’ll make tremendous progress on some days while on others it’ll seem like they’ve taken steps back. Sometimes, they might decide not to face their fears at all. When this happens, they’re not being difficult, defiant or stubborn. They’re just not ready to deal with their fears at that time so try not to push or nag.

Give them space and perhaps try finding a fear on a smaller scale that your kid can overcome. For example, if they’re not ready to tackle going down a 13ft skating ramp, perhaps they’ll handle a smaller 7ft one with no trouble instead.

Avoiding avoidance.

Seeing your child in distress isn’t a comfortable experience for most parents. In response, you might be tempted to go into protection mode, trying to shield your kids from every possible anxiety trigger. This is not only impractical but also detrimental to your children’s development.

Shielding your child and helping them avoid anxious situations only validates their fearful thoughts. It also sends a subtle message that you’re not confident in their ability to solve problems on their own.

The best way to deal with anxiety triggers is to take small steps to overcome and deal with them. This way your child becomes stronger by working through their fears and worries.

Being patient and persistent.

Addressing your kid’s anxieties or fears calls for a ton of patience. Progress might seem slow but that’s when you teach your child the value of persistence. If they fail one day, encourage them to try again next time. By doing this, you’ll be teaching them to see challenges as something to overcome. You’re also helping them develop the kind of grit and fortitude that’ll help them surmount any obstacles they encounter in life.

Most of all, you need to show empathy when your child faces certain fears and worries. Find ways to validate their feelings while letting them know that you understand what they’re going through and that they can count on your help and support.

While you can’t protect your child from experiencing anxiety or having fears, you can certainly help them learn to get them under control so that they can lead fulfilling lives.