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Published on September 12, 2016

Helping Children Work Through Fears

The start of school often brings anxious feelings

By Jaynie Wood, MS, Child Life Specialist, Cottage Children’s Medical Center

Jaynie Wood, MS, Child Life Specialist, Cottage Children’s Medical Center

The beginning of a school year can be the start of many new adventures. Often times, when faced with something new and unfamiliar, children may experience an underlying element of fear. When your child states they feel fear, it is important to acknowledge the feeling instead of saying “don’t be scared, there is nothing to be afraid of.”

Fear is defined as an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain or a threat. If a child senses fear, adults need to resist telling them they do not feel that emotion, but rather determine why they are having anxious feelings and to help find a solution to resolve them.

Provide time to talk about the circumstances surrounding whatever is causing the fear. Allow the child to express their feelings at an age appropriate level. Pre-school-age children may express their feelings more openly than school-age children who may be more likely to act out their feelings.

It’s important to find a quiet space that is neutral to talk with your child or teen. Turn off the TV, video games, phones, and other distractions to focus on your child. Allow the time for the discussion to be natural and not forced. Children will share in their own time and when they feel you are really listening to what they have to say.

Children look to the adults in their world for comfort and support, direction and clarity. When children are under stress and experiencing the body’s “fight or flight” response, they need support from adults to model positive coping skills.

Here are a few simple ways to help children with stressful situations and fear:

  • Make good eye contact to help children put their trust in you
  • Take slow, deep breaths and have them match your breathing. This will help them relax if they are becoming anxious
  • Use a soft, gentle voice and remain calm when talking

Keep in mind your child will take their cues from you, and your words and actions need to match. Give your child the gift of time, sincere listening and honest answers. That will build trust, and when your child trusts you they will feel safe to share their fears and concerns.

Jaynie Wood, MS, has worked with thousands of children during her 21 years as a Child Life Specialist for Cottage Children’s Medical Center and Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.

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