My 4-year-old son seems to be afraid of everything. Initially it started with little things like being scared of the dark, having monsters under the bed, or having to go to the doctor’s office. Now, he gets scared flying in an airplane, or of other people’s pets. He constantly asks me questions about these things and my answers just don’t reassure him. I’ve tried talking to him patiently and explaining that there is nothing to be afraid of. I’ve even tried reading him books to help overcome his fears, but nothing is working. This is seriously impacting his life and mine. Please help!
Thank you for writing in and asking for help. I want to assure you that you are not alone in this struggle. I have worked with children in the United Kingdom, the United States of America and in Hong Kong and to this day one of the most common questions that parents ask me is, “is my child’s fear normal?” This is a very good question and parents are right to ask it. Whilst fear and worry are normal and necessary for children, they can also cause great distress to the child and their family.
Children often have more fears and worries than adults do. As adults, we tend to forget how scary things can be for a child. From our perspective, our child’s fearful response to something harmless may seem absurd and often irritating. But for a child, this is unfamiliar territory and, therefore potentially unsafe. Your son has less experience of the world than you do and he probably finds it hard to differentiate between what is and what isn’t potentially dangerous.
As you’ve already discovered, simply telling your child to stop worrying doesn’t help at all. I do want to point out, that I think you’re doing a great job at trying to reassure your son by letting him know that he has nothing to be afraid of, but we have to remember that adult logic does not always apply to children.
Try to talk with your son about his worries in a language that he can understand. For example, try and explain fear to him by using the analogy of a flower. If you plant, a flower seed in soil and water it and make sure it gets plenty of sunlight each day it will begin to grow. If you keep tending to it everyday then it will keep growing until you have a beautiful flower, pretty soon you may have more than one flower. Worries and fears are just like flowers; if you tend to them and pay attention to them you can make them grow. What started as one little seed can grow into many different worries that your child just doesn’t know how to get rid of.
When your child is absorbed in watching a cartoon, building a tower, or riding his bike there is less room for him to worry. If your child doesn’t spend his time worrying about harmful things, they are more likely to go away (just like a flower that isn’t, tended to will shrivel up and die). Try and allocate a set amount of time each day for your son to talk about his fears. Give the time a name, and try to make sure it takes place at the same time everyday (preferably not just before bedtime). During this time, encourage your son to talk about what, is bothering him and ask the questions he needs answered. Assure him that you will be there to listen to whatever he wants to talk about and try and help as best you can. If he asks you a question about a specific fear outside of this time then explain to him that you’ve taken note of his question and will answer it during the allotted time. Answering these questions all the time is just like tending to the flower so keep reminding your son to wait for this specific time. Initially, he may have a lot to talk about, but eventually you’ll notice that some of his fears have started disappearing on their own.
This is just one of the many tips to deal with your son’s fears. I would be happy to provide you with more information and specific tools to help your son overcome his fear. Good luck!