Minimizing Your Child’s Fears and Anxiety
“My 9-year-old has started struggling with a bit of fear and anxiety, especially relating to safety (double-checking locks, coming out of his room after bedtime to talk about noises, etc). He also fixates a bit, so a little worry about a small issue can quickly escalate into some big anxiety for a young guy! Any recommendations for helping him work through his fears and anxious thoughts?”
Fear Can Be Normal
First of all, it’s important to remember that to a certain extent this is age-appropriate behavior. A lot of brain development is happening around this age that is quite complex. You mix that with a beautifully vivid imagination and it’s understandable why simple fears can easily become overwhelming. Here are some suggestions you can try to help navigate this sensitive time.
1. Explore His Fears
Inquire a bit to see if there have been any new situations or exposures that may have triggered some fears. Has there recently been a fire drill or “shooter drill” at his school? Is he reading a story that involves a kidnapped child or a robbery? Did Dad recently go away on a long business trip? Sometimes we can pinpoint what started these fears and sometimes we can’t. It’s also possible he may not know himself.
2. Listen to His Concern
Sometimes simply allowing him to verbally process what’s going on in his head will help. At times our kids need to tell us things simply because they’re too heavy for them to hold onto by themselves. Helping him feel confident that there is an open door and a listening ear anytime he needs it can feel so comforting and might be enough to keep his anxiety from perpetuating his fear.
3. Validate His Feelings
After listening, take pause to validate his feelings. While the situation may not be “real”, his feelings certainly are. Saying something like “that sounds really scary” and “I am so glad you shared that with me” is a good way to respond.
4. Ask How You Can Help
Instead of arguing the reality of some of his fears, try asking questions such as “what would help you feel safe”, “when/where do you feel the most safe?” It can often be hard for kids that age to find words for their feelings. Asking him to draw a picture or tell you a story might give you some insight.
5. Share Your Experiences
There are some ways to help a child understand that to a certain extent fear is a natural part of life. After your child has been heard and validated and in a calm state, you can talk to him about the “good parts” of fear – that “scared” feeling is like an inner alert system to help us sense danger. An alarm doesn’t mean that there IS danger it means that there MIGHT be danger. We want our kids to pay attention to it. However, sometimes our imagination takes over and we have to pause and think through if we are REALLY in danger or not. That sometimes “alarm systems” go off and there really is not danger.
Try asking some guided questions to help him come to the conclusion himself that he is, in fact, not in danger. It can also be helpful to share some of your own life experiences where you have had to stop and think through if your “scared alarm” meant real danger or not. You can also share times when you were scared as a child and together try to decide if it was a “real danger alarm” or not. Helping your son through this thought process can help him be able to eventually do so on his own.
6. Read Books with Him
There are many wonderful children’s books dedicated to helping children through all sorts of feelings. These can be incredibly helpful aids, and they can also double as quality snuggle time with Mama.
Be flexible and open to ideas he might come up with on his own. Whether it’s an object, prayer, mantra, or ritual that helps him feel safe and calm, stay patient and positive knowing that it may take time and attention but it is a valuable life skill that will serve him so well.
Written By: Hayden Sears