Confronting Childhood Fears
All children have anxieties and fears – some more than others. Some of these fears have roots in real threats, like getting stung by a bee or getting sick and throwing up, whereas others live largely in the imagination – things like fear of trolls and monsters. And then, of course, there are the fears that we all just have to live with and cannot affect real change or provide concrete solutions for: like school massacres and super storms. A good example of such a fear is demonstrated in Woody Allen’s film “Annie Hall” (see clip below):
But for the acute fears that are rooted in the imagination of children; the sort of fears that are paralyzing and deeply destabilizing for children, it can be a rough road. A recent New York Times piece interviewed a number of child development experts on the subject and showed that anxiety disorders affect one in five children in the United States, and they are most often underdiagnosed and undertreated.
Tamar E. Chansky, a psychotherapist who treats anxious children, as well as adults, and wrote a practical guide, “Freeing Your Child From Anxiety,” insists that empowering children and encouraging them to overcome such fears. Here are some of her tips (as reported in the NYT piece):
- Empathize with your child. Resist the temptation to tell the child there is nothing to worry about, and instead acknowledge the child’s concerns and the effect they have.
- Describe the problem as coming from “the worry brain” that jumps to conclusions and cannot be trusted. Give worry a name, like “brain bug.” This takes the focus from the child’s particular fear and makes anxiety itself the problem.
- Rewire and resist. Ask your child what she is really worried about and what she thinks might happen. Then ask her to check whether these thoughts really make sense. Help her find inner strength, the voice that tells worry it is not the boss.
- Teach relaxation techniques to temper the biological alarm to fight or flee whenever fear takes over.
- Help the child focus on what he wants to do and what he would do if worry were not in charge.
- Finally, reinforce your child’s efforts, praising her for getting through a tough situation.
How do you contend with your child’s worry (or your own for that matter)? Do you think tactics, like the many listed above, would make a positive impact?