November 27, 2017
Expert Strategies for Helping Preschoolers Master their Fears
As children move through the preschool years, it is not uncommon for parents to become concerned that their child seems to be becoming more fearful than when they were younger. The preschool brain is growing at an amazing speed and with this the child’s imagination is beginning to emerge. Although a child’s imagination is wonderful during waking hours, that same imagination can play havoc on a child’s fears. It’s fun to “play” with an imaginary friend, however; it is not so fun to fight off an imaginary monster. Since your preschooler is becoming more aware of the world around them, world experiences can trigger those fears. Is that dog going to bite me? Is what I watched on the local news going to happen to my family?
Parents play an important role in helping children master their fears.
- Listen intently to your child when he shares what scares him. Sometimes parents feel like this is “playing” into the child’s fears, but the goal here is to show the child that you are there in their time of need.
- Gather information from your child about what may be causing the fear.
- Look at books together that tell a story about how a likeable character overcame a fear. It’s often easier to talk about experiencing and mastering fears when someone else is the subject!
- Talk about ways to overcome a fear and involve the child who is old enough to participate in problem solving. If the child is too upset to help, offer suggestions and seek feedback.
- Never force a frightened preschooler to confront the object of fear.
- Give the fear a name. Encourage your child to refer to the fear by name as a way of seeing it for what it is. This can make the fear more manageable and it may be easier for the child to communicate his fearful feelings when they occur. If the noise of fireworks causes fear, announcing, “That was a very loud firecracker noise!” is therapeutic for the child.
- Use “instant replay.” If your child is old enough, help him retell a scary fairy tale or story by changing it. Suggest ways monsters can be defeated, heroes can win, and fearful events can be prevented. Enlist his own ideas.
- Communicate that you have confidence in your child. Assure him that he’ll get over his fear eventually. If you assume that, he will, too! Build on past successes. Remind him about how he mastered fears before.
- Allow your child to work through his fears in his own way. One important way preschoolers gain control over their fears is through imaginative play. Acting out roles again and again can tip the balance in favor of the “good guys.” While playing out a scary experience through pretending, a child can take charge of his fears. He can practice skills that will be useful when he deals with fearful situations later. In a similar way, young children often tell stories about what they paint or draw. By telling stories that have disastrous themes children can release and subdue their fears. The stories usually have reassuring and satisfying endings.
- Provide advance information about a potentially fearful situation. Answer your child’s questions honestly without unduly alarming him. A trip to the doctor or a prolonged separation may trigger anxieties that are best dealt with ahead of time. Announcements should be simple and times carefully.
- Keep in mind that children’s fears sometimes are a product of the preschooler’s concrete thinking and limited experience. He often takes things literally! For example, hearing that a friend’s dog was put to sleep and died may make some afraid to go to sleep.