Helping Your Child With Fears
Lots of children have a love-hate relationship with Hallowe’en, (not to mention animals, insects, and other common objects of fear). If your young child is experiencing fears, one of the most helpful things you can do is to affirm their feelings. Let your child know that everybody is afraid sometimes, and that you will be there for them.
When a child is pushed to get to close to something they are afraid of, laughed at, or scolded for being afraid, you risk having the fear become a phobia. This type of response will also damage your child’s trust in you.
Often, sharing knowledge about how other people do things can be very helpful. You might let your child know that, since lots of people are afraid of things, there are lots of ways that people can stop being afraid. Then you can try some of the ideas below together. Overcoming fears may be as simple as outgrowing them, or may be a more complex process.
If your child is afraid of something that you don’t like, make sure you let him or her know that you don’t like that thing, either. Your child will see your example of acting calmly even though you don’t like that thing, and that can help him or her to feel braver.
Since very young children are often afraid of faces that have angry expressions or that don’t look quite right, Hallowe’en witches, ghosts, skulls, or other scary masks or decorations can be especially frightening. For a child under three, the easiest solution is to do your best to avoid exposing the little one to things that you know he or she finds scary. The child will have lots of time to reach new levels of understanding and overcome these fears with time.
If your young child sees something that he or she is afraid of, as soon as you have affirmed the feeling, you can try to distract your child. “You didn’t like that at all! I don’t like those either. Hey, look! There’s someone dressed up as a chicken!” With older children (3 or 4) you can talk to them about choosing to think about something else once their initial fear has settled down a bit. The song “My Favourite Things” can be very helpful for this (even if you can’t sing like Julie Andrews;).
If your child is afraid of animals or insects (like the Hallowe’en spider), the fear can often be softened by reading books or watching you or someone else interact with the animal or bug. Again, if the child is too frightened, hold him or her close and stay far away unless the child agrees to move closer. You can also sing “Itsy Bitsy Spider” or other songs related to the specific fear.
As your child gets older (3, 4, or 5) you can give more information throughout the year about things like skulls and skeletons, witches and ghosts. The explanations that appeal to most children might be very scientific, involving feeling their own bones, or they might be more story-like, sounding something like this:
“People used to think that witches were people who could do magic by mixing funny things together and saying interesting words. Like…maybe the witch could mix the hair of a dog with a pair of someone’s socks, say “slitheraniffle” and suddenly the person would get hairy feet! Do you think that really happens? Probably not, but sometimes people like to pretend. People thought that it would be kind of scary for witches to be able to do those kinds of things, and they imagined people with super-long noses and green skin and called them witches.”
When talking about Hallowe’en, it also helps to explain that some people think it’s fun to be a little scared. You might say that people like to feel all of their feelings, and being afraid is one kind of feeling.
One of the best ways to help someone overcome a fear is to help them to take an action that addresses the fear directly. One possible action is to prepare the child with something to say to the thing they are afraid of. They might say “Hey, you skeleton! Stop scaring me!” or “Hello, little kitty, please be gentle with me.” They might also have a stuffed toy they like to cuddle that can help them to not be afraid, or at home, they might turn on the light, cover the book with the scary picture in it with a blanket, or dance the “Brave Dance”.
The son of a friend of mine had been stung by wasps, and was given a wing-flapping, cawing pterodactyl to frighten wasps away. When a wasp came near, he pushed the button and the thing went into action, sometimes dispelling the wasp, and usually dispelling the fear.
Another way to help overcome a fear is to offer your own physical or emotional support. If your child needs your support, you can squat down and reassure that you are close by, or allow him or her into your arms. If you are in a situation where your child is afraid to move away from you, you might consider giving him a rock or something else to keep in his pocket to remind him of you, or singing to him as he goes past the scary thing. My little one has been afraid of our cat at various times, and “singing her” through the house has often helped her to go somewhere that the cat may have been lurking.
For older children, it often helps to sit down together and write down the ideas you choose to try, then try out each idea several times to see if it helps.
I hope that these ideas help you to enjoy a fun and fearless Hallowe’en!