Helping Children Overcome Their Fears:
Some Universal Tips & Guidelines
When it comes to helping a child overcome their fears, here are some universal tips and guidelines that apply to just about every situation:
1. Avoid shock therapy
Many parents take the approach of forcing a child to confront their fears head-on, a sort of sink or swim technique for phobias. This almost always backfires, and is more likely to intensify their fear than cure them of it. When you force exposure to something at a time when fear and anxiety are at peak levels, it tends to reinforce those emotions. You don't reduce fear by creating an experience where children feel acutely afraid. There are some exceptions (such as getting a child to ride a roller coaster) in which doing it despite your fear may be necessary, but only because you're hoping the experience will change these emotions form fear to excitement. But for general phobias, forcing a terrified child to confront them is usually not helpful. You need their exposure gradually.
2. Know that your assurances will require repetition
Use matter-of-fact words to offer comforting reassurances, but understand that your child may have trouble hearing or believing these things. Childhood fears generally aren't rational, and so they tend to be resistant to even the best reasoning. This doesn't mean you shouldn't offer such reassurances; quite the contrary. It means that you need to patiently administer these reassurances over and over again and not get frustrated when they don't immediately put your child at ease.
3. Make it funny
Work in humor whenever possible. The more fun you can have with something, the more it will reduce anxiety. Fear and humor are antithetical to each other. So try to find ways to create humor around your child's feared object: