For many children, vague fears are a common occurrence. Worries and fears can include a fear of “monsters”, the dark, or simply “bad things happening.” Such worries can be intense and prevent a child from falling asleep peacefully at night. They can also hamper his independence (i.e. he may not want to sleep alone or walk places by himself). Worries like these are not only present at night, but can also manifest during the day, preventing concentration in class or enjoyment in play. Thoughts such as “What if something will go wrong?” or “What if I get hurt?” can often be present as a result of these unnamed fears. The child’s entire world can be a place where unknown danger lurks at every corner.
If your child is bothered by vague fears and worries, consider the following tips.
Use Emotional Coaching
Try not to discount the child’s worries or fears. Responses to his fear such as “there’s nothing to be afraid of,” or “there’s no such thing as monsters,” will not provide the help your child needs and may even increase his anxiety. Listen to him and show him that you care, and that you are taking him seriously. Use Emotional Coaching – the technique of naming the child’s feelings. For example, you might say, “I know that you are afraid of the dark. It’s hard for you to stay in your room alone.” After naming the child’s feelings, you may refer to the “facts” – i.e. “It’s important to go to sleep in your own bed. We can leave a night light on if that will make you feel more comfortable.”
Note that reacting intensely to your child’s fears (i.e. helping him to check every corner of the room for monsters) can also be detrimental to his condition, as you may be implying that his fears are rational (since to state that he is now safe implies that there was a indeed a possible threat!).
Reward Positive Behavior
Whenever your child faces his fear, provide positive attention. For instance, if your child goes to sleep even though he’s afraid of something, praise his bravery in the morning. Providing positive attention can help reinforce your child’s positive behavior.
Teach Relaxation Techniques
Breathing exercises and other relaxation strategies can help one counteract feelings of fear or panic. One such exercise that can prove very helpful in helping one relax is this simple mindfulness-based practice. Ask your child to lie down, close his eyes and notice his breathing by paying attention to the feeling of air going in and out of his nostrils or by noticing the rising and falling of his chest or tummy. When the child feels that the breath is going in, he should think the word “in” and when he notices that it is going out, he should think the word “out.” By concentrating on his breath this way, the child’s mind remains in a safe place, far away from imaginary catastrophes and dangers. Moreover, when focused on, the breath naturally slows down, calming both the body and mind.
Replace Bad Thoughts with Good Ones
Fear is a product of thought. One imagines something, whether it is monsters hiding under the bed or evil lurking in the dark, and his brain triggers a fear response. However, if those disturbing thoughts are replaced by positive ones, the the child can feel relaxed and safe instead. Reading your child a positive and happy story before he falls asleep can be one way of encouraging positive thoughts. Ask the child to concentrate on the details of the story as he or she falls asleep. Also, teach your child to think positive thoughts (such as remembering the fun parts of his day or thinking a phrase such as, “I’m safe in this house and protected by my parents (and/or God).” Putting attention on uplifting thoughts can be an effective tool in combating fear.
Read or Tell Stories about Brave Children
An effective fear-reducing technique is therapeutic story-telling. Tell your child a story about a little boy or girl (who happens to have the same name as your child) who encounters many challenges and overcomes them all. For instance, “There was a little boy named Michael-the-Brave. Michael-the-Brave went on a hike with his friends. Suddenly, they spotted a crocodile in the river! Michael-the-Brave pulled out a magic net from his backpack and threw it over the crocodile. The crocodile immediately became friendly and asked to the children if he could come along on their hike. Of course, they were happy to let him come.” Add all sorts of imaginary adventures, each one ending happily. This technique helps children develop a positive, confident imagination and helps them incorporate a self-image of bravery and strength.
Try Bach Flower Remedies
Bach Flower Remedies can help your child overcome fears. The remedy Aspen addresses vague fears (like those discussed in this article). Give your child 2 drops of Aspen in liquid 4 times a day until his fear has diminished. You can find more information on Bach Flower Remedies online and throughout this site.
Consult a Mental Health Professional
If you’ve tried all the tips in this article and your child is still experiencing fears and worries that are interfering with his day-to-day life, you may want to consider a consultation with a mental health professional.