Children naturally develop fears and trying to stop those fears at their unpredictable sources is next to impossible for a parent. When they feel frightened by bad weather or scary movies, kids (and specifically toddlers) can’t always explain what they are afraid might happen. More often than not, those unlikelihoods are nothing to be concerned about, but a parent can’t simply dismiss what feels like a clear and present danger. Telling a child not to be afraid is rarely an effective way to help them overcome anxieties, often because they’re too young to understand how to rationalize irrational issues. That’s why it’s important that parents treat even irrational fears with respect and soothe accordingly. In-depth conversations that dispel fears may take a long time (and be fairly frustrating) so the best bet is to get out in front and help kids avoid developing new fears.
Here’s how researchers, scientists, and experts recommend addressing common fears and making sure that few arise.
Fear Rule #1: Be Calm About Bad Weather
- Turn off the news. Keep the footage turned off until kids are sound asleep. Or, at least keep it relegated to discreet phone checks when kids are around. The news makes the worst possible events seem likely and minor weather events seem potentially catastrophic to a child.
- Let them know there are safety contingencies that will help keep them safe, like emergency kits and plans on where to seek shelter in the home.
- Offer firm reassurance that you will keep them safe no matter what.
- Stay away from frightening words when describing weather events. Abstract words allow them to fill in the gaps of knowledge with frightening thoughts.
Fear Rule #2: Prevent Nightmares
- Comfort your child when they have nightmares. Coddle them and reassure them everything is okay.
- Do not stay with the child until they fall back asleep, because you risk screwing up their sleep patterns.
- Avoid inappropriate movies, shows, games and the news, as they can all trigger nightmares for a child.
- Keep a consistent sleep schedule of good sleep for the kid as sleep disturbances make a kid prone to nightmares.
- Create a faux “monster repellent”—a spray bottle full of water—and spray the closest and underneath the bed well before bedtime to calm their nerves.
Fear Rule #3: Trivialize Halloween Monsters
- Honor belief and to let children know everyone is afraid of something.
- Tell the kid what frightens you, say that you’re afraid of something, and then immediately explain that it isn’t real.
- Ask where the question is coming from in order to create a dialogue about the underlying fear.
- Give your children lots of opportunities for free and dramatic play as a way to work through their fears.
Fear Rule #4: Prepare for Scary Movies
- Avoid saying “it’s fake” as that doesn’t mean anything to kids. Children under 7-8 years old do not have the capacity to tell the difference between fantasy and reality.
- Be mindful of your kid’s fears and the media they’re watching. Get familiar with what freaks them out, and avoid it.
- Watch the film before your kid does, or at least watch a trailer, or read an IMDB synopsis before your kid watches the media. Keep in mind a G-rating doesn’t mean every film is perfect for every child.
- Refrain from taking your kid to the movie theater at first. Movies at home can be paused or stopped if it gets too extreme for your kid.
Fear Rule #5: Don’t Discuss Conspiracy Theories
- Beware of using conspiratorial words around your child. While they may not understand the actual words, they will start to clue in on your tone and behavior.
- Avoid telling or exposing your child to outlandish conspiracy theories. A child’s brain is still developing, and they will believe what a parents tell them.
- Teach them critical thinking skills, as it will protect them from manipulators who leverage conspiracies to instill fear and anger.