When a possum sees a hole in the ground with only one set of foot tracks going in, it is afraid to enter that burrow. It knows that something dangerous lies within. When, however, it sees two sets of foot tracks – those going in and those going out, it overcomes its fear and proceeds to venture in. The creature that had gone in before it had also come out safely.
For me this is the message of Easter week: there are tracks leading in and out of the tomb. We do not need to run from our greatest fears. They are not the end of the line for those who believe, whatever that belief may be. And often that belief can come from within – aplomb, self-confidence, faith, sang-froid – call it as you wish. We all make mistakes in life and sometimes it is about starting again; a new way forward. If we can have the self-belief to pick ourselves up, find an inner strength and start again along a new path, we can discover that our future is bright and cheery.
“Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.” e.e. cummings
Helping your child to overcome a fear can be tricky though. The truth is our world is unpredictable and uncertain. As much as we try, we can’t protect our children from some of the more worrying aspects with which life presents us. Nevertheless, we can help our children learn ways to manage their fears and reduce their anxieties. We can teach our children coping strategies so they can use them to help them deal with whatever troubling event they encounter, as well as boosting their resilience for life.
1. Teach children to monitor scary media consumption
Images from films, video games, music videos, Internet websites, and even television news stories can trigger fears or make them even worse. So monitor your child’s media exposure and be especially particular about what your child watches closer to bedtime.
2. Share worries as a family
Encourage your child to talk about his or her fears. Putting a worry into words makes them more manageable. Try to “catch” their worries early before they blow out of proportion and become full-fledged fears. Reassure your child but also clarify any misconceptions and answer questions.
3. Provide calm support
Help your child feel safe. And don’t undermine the power of your words. When your child does confront a fear and hears your comforting, “It will be okay,” (or gets the same message from daddy holding her hand) she will feel more secure that she can deploy in other trying times. Your words of support will become a model your child can use by themselves.
4. Read books that deal with the fear
Telling stories, acting out situations or reading books about a particular scary situation can help children overcome fears. It’s helpful because children often identify with the character who shares the same anxiety:
5. Chant a mantra
Teach your child to face the fear by helping her learn to say a positive phrase. It’s best to help your child choose only one phrase and help them practise saying the same one several times a day until they can say it to themselves when feeling anxious. A few fear-reducers include: “I can do this.” “I can handle this.” “I will be OK.” “It’s not a big deal.”
6. Practise relaxation strategies
If the fear makes your child tense, learning relaxation strategies could help. Practise the one tip over and over until it becomes almost “automatic.” You might need to put a picture reminder on the fridge or next to your child’s bed. The trick is for your child to use that strategy the moment the worry comes before it builds. For example:
~ Tell your child the moment they start to feel tense to imagine they are floating peacefully on a cloud or lying quietly on a beach.
~ Taking slow deep breaths also reduces anxiety.
~ Teach your child to pretend that his lungs are balloons filled to the brim and to slowly let the air out of them as their fears go away.
7. Ask for hugs!
When our children are troubled one of our natural parenting instincts kick in and we hug them to try to comfort them. Research finds that our instincts are right! Hugs actually help reduce our children’s’ worries and calm them.
8. Put your child in the driving seat
Research shows that feeling as if you have some control over a situation helps reduce the worry. So empower your child by helping him develop his own fear-reducing plan. Start by identifying one fear.
Problem: “The weird shadows on my wall make me scared to sleep in the dark.”
“What might help need you feel safer?” Then brainstorm reasonable options until your child can find at least one thing that might help him feel more in control and then carry it out.
Solution: “Tuck a torch under my pillow and move the my bed away from the bookcase so I don’t see the shadows on the wall.”