To a certain extent, we all fear new experiences. We human beings like to know what to expect and what is expected of us in any given situation. The more we know about a “first-time” experience, the less fear we feel and the more confident and in-control we tend to be. Preparing for childbirth, for instance, helps first time parents to learn about the different stages of birthing and helps them acquire coping skills for each stage.
Children have many “first-time” experiences. There’s the first time with a babysitter, the first time getting a haircut, the first day of school (each year!), the first time at the dentist and so on and so forth. Every first-time event brings the child into contact with the unknown and the stress that accompanies it. What can parents do it help their children negotiate new experiences more comfortably?
Just as it does for adults, information helps kids cope better with new experiences. Parents can use “bibliotherapy” (reading books) to help prepare children for most new experiences; your public library most likely has a large selection of books about starting school, going to the doctor, going to the hospital, going on an airplane and so on. Similarly, parents can use the computer to show children pictures of virtually everything and in many cases, parents can actually take the child physically to the scene of the upcoming experience (i.e. to the hospital, to the classroom, to the barber shop) in order to become familiar with the setting and procedures before having to actually use them. Telling the child what will happen in a step-by-step fashion is also an excellent form of preparation (“First we’ll wait in a big room until a nurse calls our name. Then we’ll go into a small room and wait for Dr. Paulson. You’ll take your clothes off and put on a special hospital gown. Then Dr. Paulson will ask you to lie on the table and he’ll feel your tummy with his hands, sort of like this…”).
Bach Flower Remedies and other similar preparations can be used to help children who are particularly fearful of new experiences. The remedy Mimulus can help as can the remedy Walnut. Two drops of each remedy in water or other liquid four times a day a couple of weeks before the new experience can help the child feel more relaxed and confident on the day of the event. Most health food stores carry the Bach Remedies. On the day of the new experience itself, whether or not the child has been taking remedies in the previous days or weeks, the mixture called “Rescue Remedy” can be taken as often as needed to help the child feel calm and confident (it’s great for adults too!).
Bilateral Tapping or EFT
Self-help techniques like “WHEE” or “EFT” (emotional freedom technique) can be used to help very fearful children get calm before a new experience. The internet is an excellent resource for these techniques and there are many therapists who can teach you how to help your child using a few minutes of these mind/body strategies.
Children who experience panic at the thought of a new experience or who have overwhelming fear during new experiences can be helped by a child psychologist. Often, brief therapy is all that is needed to provide the child with a set of coping skills.