Monsters Under the Bed? Helping Your Child Cope with Fears
While your child’s fear may not require you to shine a flashlight under your little one’s bed to prove it’s a monster-free zone, all parents have to help their children learn how to cope with their fears.
Whatever you do, it’s important not to tease or make fun of your child’s fear, says Denise Loveland, a licensed clinical social worker and a child/adolescent therapist with Mental Health Centers of Central Illinois’ office in Jacksonville.
Parents need to find the right balance.
“Avoid lecturing your child,” Loveland says. “And try not to reinforce the fear by making too much of it. Overprotection can cause children to be unnecessarily fearful.”
The common fears for children from 2 to 4 years old are separation, baths, dogs, loud noises, darkness, monsters, strangers, and storms.
For children who are 5 and older, common fears include fires, injury, being home alone, peer rejection, failing at school, and their parents being hurt, killed, or getting a divorce.
Remember that fears are normal for all of us. Respect that your child’s fear is real.
You need to remain calm and empathize with them. Hold their hands or give them a hug to make them feel more secure. When they’re frightened, you need to support them and use reassuring words so they know they are safe.
Don’t force your children into fearful situations, Loveland says. It won’t help them overcome their fears.
Talk to children about their fears. You can read books to them or let them draw their fears.
“Sometimes drawing a monster can help a child to express fears and learn to distinguish the fear from the reality,” Loveland says.
By using play to act out a situation, you can give your child control over the situation. If your child is afraid of fire engines, let them play with a toy fire engine.
Be sensitive to your child’s exposure to media. Images from movies, video games, music videos, websites, and even TV news stories can make children afraid. Young children may not know the difference between what’s real or not, so pay attention to the age recommendations and ratings on movies, TV shows, and video games.
Did you help your child overcome a fear? What did you do?
If you’re concerned that your child needs help with an irrational fear, you can call the professionals at The Children’s Center in Springfield at (217) 757-7700, MHCCI’s Jacksonville office at (217) 245-6126 or MHCCI’s Lincoln office at (217) 735-2272.