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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?

Talking to your Kids about School Shootings

Read more: Anxiety, Babies, Blogs, Caregiving, Children, Family, General Health, Health, Insomnia, Mental Wellness, Parenting at the Crossroads, Stress, , , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.


+ add your own
4:04PM PST on Jan 14, 2013

I agree that a parent should understand what there child is scared of. And also find solutions to help there child overcome there fears. They should listen to their child and not ignore them.

2:12AM PST on Jan 6, 2013

thanks for sharing

11:22AM PST on Dec 30, 2012

to guides that will help parents are Erikson's psychosocial stages

Maslow's Hierarchy of needs

Hierarchy of Needs
diagram, based on
Maslow's theory
*Biological and Physiological needs
basic life needs - air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep, etc.
*Safety needs
protection, security, order, law, limits, stability, etc.
*Aesthetic needs
beauty, balance, form, etc.
*Cognitive needs
knowledge, meaning, self-awareness
*Esteem needs
achievement, status, responsibility, reputation
*Belongingness and Love needs
family, affection, relationships, work group, etc.
personal growth, self-fulfilment

7:50AM PST on Dec 29, 2012


11:58PM PST on Dec 28, 2012

Thanks for this.

12:30PM PST on Dec 28, 2012

noted thanks

8:06AM PST on Dec 28, 2012

good reminders

7:07AM PST on Dec 28, 2012

Fear can be debilitating, for kids and adults. Most we outgrow and others simmer down as we age. I do think most carry some kind of fear all their lives. As long as it does not stop you from "living" life I don't think it is that much of a problem. But if you stop going or doing things, shut out family, friends, etc. then I think they must be addressed. Anxiety is crippling if it really gets a hold of you. Thanks for the article.

8:47PM PST on Dec 27, 2012

Clowns! Hate clowns!

7:51PM PST on Dec 27, 2012


on worry (for adults specifically i think) - one thing to possibly consider (it wont likely manifest money by the way) is:

i find it helped me as one thing to do

(its definately not the only thing to consider to do and not a replacement for other healing modalities)

please use your intuition and your good judgement about use of this information - just a headsup (may or may not be right for you)

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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