Just as your children grow and change, so do their fears. Monsters under the bed, thunderstorms or loud noises probably no longer cause your child to need your reassuring words and hugs. Fourth and fifth graders’ most common anxieties are being kidnapped, parents divorcing, someone dying, fires, burglars, school failure and being a social outcast.
Psychologists have discovered that distinguishing between fear and anxiety is often difficult in children. Fear is a response to a situation (a neighbor’s dog), while anxiety is being worried about something that hasn’t happened yet (a shot at the doctor’s office). Once parents realize this difference, they can better help their child cope.
- The first and most important thing is to believe your child’s fear. Talking about and affirming the existence of her fear will help your child. But be careful not to overtalk the fear or express your own fears. If your child doesn’t want to discuss it, encourage her to write a fictional story about another person with the same fears or draw a picture of what could happen.
- Fears can often be removed or reasoned through to a logical conclusion after evaluating reality. Make a plan of action if a mean dog comes too close. Practice on dolls the day before a visit to the dentist. Memorize certain Bible verses that fit your child’s fear (check out Psalm 27:1, Psalm 31:24 and John 14:27). The more independent your child feels, the smaller the fear can become.
- Try to recognize your child’s signs of anxiety in order to quickly help. Some children may become introverted. Others will misbehave, and still others will have sleeping problems, headaches or stomachaches.
- Know the fine line between being a protective parent and being overprotective. Your child should feel safe but shouldn’t be so insecure as to never want to be alone. Shielding unpleasant situations is part of a parent’s responsibility, but children also must have the freedom to learn from their experiences and their mistakes.
If your child’s anxiety repeatedly interrupts her daily life, consider consulting a counselor, pediatrician or pastor for advice on minimizing these heart-pounding fears.
Stress at Home
Dr. Archibald Hart answers how stress at home and parents’ attitudes affect their children.
Q: Does the attitude we take as parents have a dramatic effect on our children? We’re getting them up in the morning with “Hurry up. Get ready. I’ve got to go to work and you’ve got to go to school. Take a bite and eat quick, hurry, get ready!”
A: I think that’s absolutely true. Children are being taught to live at a hectic pace in today’s society. The home — the family environment — creates the stress problems that so many children experience later in life. It’s in the home, therefore, in the family, that the solution to the problem lies. What we model to our children teaches them the values that will determine whether they’re going to live a stressful life or not.
Parents are busier than ever these days. I’m not saying, “Don’t finish your projects. Don’t tackle that pile of dishes. Don’t tackle that pile of paper.” I’m saying to make it a point to sit back and relax with your family.
Don’t use adrenaline to get everything done. We’re using high-octane adrenaline to do stuff that can be done with very little energy. Don’t sit all tensed up; don’t drive the car with your adrenaline surging.
There are certain emotions that demand adrenaline. When you’re angry, resentful or frustrated, your adrenaline is pumping. Don’t do your work with anger or frustration.
If tackling that pile of papers or sink of dishes is going to make you angry and frustrated, set it aside; leave the task. Go hug your child; play a game of Monopoly; spend a few minutes thanking God for your home, family and job. Come back when your mind is at peace. Believe me, your children will take notice — and your physical and emotional well-being will improve.
Next Steps and Related Information
Additional resources on responding to your child’s fears
Popular questions on this topic:
- Our preschooler is afraid to go to sleep in the dark. How can we address this night-time fear?
- My child is hysterically afraid of bugs. What should I do?
- Our son is overly cautious. Should we push him to face his fears or let him overcome them on his own?
- My pre-teen seems to have separation anxiety and doesn’t want to be away from us.
- Can the evening news have a negative effect on my kids?
- Our child is afraid of the school bus, but we simply can’t drive him to school?
- Adventures in Odyssey
Life Lessons Series #1
- Complete Guide to Baby & Child Care
- Adventures in Odyssey #47
Into the Light