I started this post way before Paris and San Bernardino became such touch points for fear. I had second thoughts about publishing. All of a sudden it sounded silly to write about helping our kids approach the fears they have about water or dogs, when there are so many bigger fears to face. But, I honestly feel that the way we approach and deal with these small fears we have, will give us the strength to conquer our bigger fears and will also help us work towards helping others deal with their fears.
We want our kids to be successful. We want them to get up in the morning and face their day head on, rising to challenges and continually pushing forward in their growth. But, then this thing called fear gets in the way. And we see our son or daughter become stuck and afraid to go forward.
Kids get scared. Doing new things can be scary. They overhear conversations, or see headlines in the newspaper they don’t understand. Kids can even become fearful of things or situations they once didn’t give any thought to.
Add our parental fears and worries, about raising a child with hearing loss, to this mix and we can sink into a big pit of overwhelm.
Eleanor Roosevelt described fear as:
…the worst stumbling block which anyone has to face. It is the great crippler. Looking back, it strikes me that my childhood and my early youth were one long battle against fear.
The Predictability of Fear.
Children’s fears tend to go through predictable stages.
First it’s separation from attachment figures (like mom and dad).
Next, comes concrete things they can hear or see like thunder or a dog.
Then, as their ability to imagine grows, they become afraid of monsters and ghosts.
By late elementary school, they are more afraid of things they may hear about on TV such as war, being abducted, or similar fates that are unlikely but nevertheless terrifying to think about (Kanoy, 2013).
There are two responses to fear. In one sense fear can be a motivator. It is a natural part of growth. Finding ourselves in situations that are too comfortable means that we are not growing. The fear we feel in new situations is a sign that we are changing.
Fear can also act as an inhibitor. It can literally stop us in our tracks. It is this response to fear that we wish our children could avoid, or at least learn to cope with.
“Parental concerns deepen, when a child’s excessive fearfulness persists over time, is not age-appropriate, or interferes with her daily functioning,” says Donna Pincus, PhD, Child and Adolescent Fear and Anxiety Treatment Program at the Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders at Boston University.
The Fear Tool Kit
Tara Mohr in her book, Playing Big, Find Your Voice, Your Mission, Your Message, talks about building a fear tool kit because it is inevitable that at some point in our lives we will experience fear especially if we try to push ourselves.
Building a fear tool kit is about providing your child with what they need to tackle fear when it comes. And it will, they just need to be ready for it. You and your child can work through building one together. The more practice you have the more ready you will be when fear needs to be stared down.
“It’s in the interaction between parent and child that kids first and most powerfully learn critical lessons — that it’s safe to try new things, that frustration and fear can be overcome, that the situations that make us afraid can be mastered,” says Ms. Pincus.
Label Maker: Find a way to label the fear. Putting words to what it is that your child is afraid of can help to take some of the scary away. It is also important at this stage to help your child understand that there is nothing wrong with being afraid. Everyone is afraid of something. Don’t lie about the fear, or make up stories.
Once your child is able to specifically name the fear then he has the power to figure out what steps need to be taken in working towards conquering his fear.
Blueprints: The next tool that comes in handy is making a blueprint – something that is going to become your child’s action plan. Help your child identify the things they need to do in order so they can approach this fear. Who can help? What can be done? What makes sense as far as approaching the fear?
Tape Measure: This is the tool you are going to use to help your child put the plan into action. And it’s all about approaching the fear using baby steps. Break the plan down into as many action steps as you need to for your child to be successful – it’s not about conquering the fear in one fell swoop.
For example, if your child is afraid of dogs, maybe the first day you and your child stand on the other side of a fence from a dog; the next day you are both on the same side of a fence. The next task could be that you touch the dog; then your child can touch your shoulder while you are touching the dog; then you can work up to having your child pet the dog. (Of course, make sure you have a cooperative dog when you work through all of this).
“Make it a game,” suggests Thompson Davis, PhD, a former therapist at the Virginia Tech children’s phobia project, “where your child simply has a task to complete, this isn’t about having them feel overwhelmed or terrified during the process.”
“Another thing you could do,” suggests Davis, “is to ask your child to test their predictions, perhaps by standing near the dog and noting whether it acts as they expected.”
Eraser: This tool is important as your child begins to erase some of his fears, he also needs to work on changing his fear stories, the ones he keeps telling himself over and over again. Having an eraser helps him change “what-ifs” into “what is.” This is where phrases like, “I used to be scared…” and “I’m no longer afraid of…” begin take on more meaning.
Walkie-Talkies: Now that you and your child have identified the fear, worked out an action plan, made some progress, and tell different stories, it’s also important to let others know what your child is working on.
Talk to your next-door neighbor and let her know your son is working on his fear of dogs and where he is in the process. Talk to the classroom teacher and let him know your daughter is working on her fear of making presentations and the steps she is taking. The more people cheering on your child the better.
And, because I know what champion worriers us parents can be, here are a couple of extras tools for your own tool kit:
Flashlight: Similar to the eraser in your child’s tool kit, the flashlight will help you keep your child’s new mindset in focus. As your child works through these changes it’s important to keep up with your child’s mindset and who they think they are. If you are still telling stories, or think of your child as, “the girl who is afraid to put her face in the water,” even though she managed to get her face wet in the bathtub, then you might be holding her back. It’s those little victories that keep us moving.
Level: There is lots of crazy stuff going on in this world – there always has been and not to be pessimistic, but there always probably will be. And now with our 24/7 connectivity we can experience everything on so many different layers, as it is beamed to us from all across the world. As difficult as it can be try to keep your own worry and fears in check. Fears can be caught by your child and passed down. Not that you have to pretend everything is sunshine and roses, but keeping conversations and media access age appropriate can help your child process things they are ready to handle.
As you go about building your tool kit remember you can have all the tools in the world, but if you don’t practice using them, no progress will be made. Encouraging your child to face their fears, instead of avoiding them, is the best thing you can do to help your child feel more secure.
f you enjoyed reading this post and haven’t subscribed yet, please take a minute to do so in the sidebar. As a thank you I will send you a free copy of my mini e-book, 5 Emotional Sticking Points of Raising a Child with Hearing Loss.
Kanoy, Korrel, (2013). Everything Parent’s Guide to Emotional Intelligence in Children: How to raise children who are caring, resilient, and emotionally strong.