Scholar Lawrence Cohen argues that addressing childhood fears with rational reassurance is not the most effective way: they often fail in the face of the “logic of fear.” Instead, it is important to “offer the building blocks of security: love, empathy and acceptance”
Girls and boys who are afraid of water or the dark. Reluctant to try something new. Terrified of making mistakes or being alone. Restless, agitated, nervous, hyperactive, clumsy, awkward, rigid.
The fear that can assail the little ones of the house has different faces: it can have the appearance of a monster in the closet or under the bed, hide in shyness, manifest itself in anxiety to go to school or spend hours away from the eyes of parents. And moms and dads know this well, and at times they risk sinking into frustration and being overwhelmed by a sense of helplessness when their reassurances don’t work.
Lawrence Cohen collected in the book The secret fears of children (Feltrinelli, 2015) useful advice to help your children in difficulty, starting from the assumption that facing childhood fears with rational reassurance is not the most effective way: they often fail in the face of the “logic of fear”. Instead, it is important to “offer the building blocks of security: love, empathy and acceptance”.
In this article
1) Show empathy, attention and listening
The parent-child relationship is a fundamental resource, because it “helps children feel safe, confident and happy”. After all, according to the author of the book, one of the greatest tasks of parents is to give “emotional recharges”, offering attention, encouragement and listening. That’s why mom and dad should make the effort to ask themselves what their child feels when he feels so anxious and agitated, avoiding belittling or ridiculing his fears and, consequently, his mood.
“Who are we to say that a child’s concern is ridiculous?” says the psychologist. “Sure, the monsters under the bed aren’t real, but the child’s fear is.” How many times, on the other hand, does it happen to repeat to children that it is not worth worrying about so little and that there is no reason to be afraid? Cohen urges parents to refrain from judging the legitimacy of their children’s fears. Because all fears are valid, they are the expression of the feelings they are experiencing. (Read also: Children’s fears)
2) Teach children how to ‘cool down’ emotions
Fear is essential to face more or less unpleasant and risky situations. Without its alarm function, in fact, we would not run, we would not hide or ask for help if we were in danger. It is, in short, “like the sense of Spider-Man, which warns us when something is wrong”. Excessive fear, however, disrupts the “safety system,” Cohen uses to describe the mind’s response to danger.
And particularly anxious children live in a perennial state of alert (what if lightning strikes the house? And if others laugh at me?) And don’t seem to notice the signs of a no-brainer (it looked like a snake, but in reality it was just a stick), so they can’t shake off fear and have a hard time calming down.
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go to the gallery
A handy spray to chase away monsters, a dream catcher or a plush lion: we have collected for you in this photo gallery some remedies to combat childhood fears.
This triggers a defense mechanism, of “avoidance”, which triggers the “paradox of anxiety”: Anxious children continually strive to avoid anything that causes restlessness, but this ends up increasing the anxiety even more. To help children experience the whirlwind of emotions in which they can be overwhelmed more consciously, Cohen suggests resorting to the metaphor of the “flame of emotions”, explaining that every emotion (the flame) begins with a spark, which can be a thought or event. “The flame metaphor is perfect especially for anxious children, who often treat their feelings as if they are too hot to handle. But luckily, they can learn to throw water on flames.” Water is anything that can cool the emotion: count to ten, breathe deeply, think of something different, jump or draw. (Read also: A serene and loved child, therefore more intelligent)
3) Balance patience and acceptance with a gentle nudge
Understanding and accepting the state of mind of children is the first step in being able to encourage them to face what frightens them. Many anxious children, for example, need time to familiarize themselves with new people or situations because they are afraid of anything unfamiliar. Throwing them into the fray in the belief that this will make their bones is not productive: “The nudge must be delicate.” So, if they struggle to make friends (in the case of social phobia), try inviting other children to the house: it will be easier to start breaking the ice in the environment in which they feel protected and safe.
And if in the park they find it hard to break away from you, don’t deny them the opportunity to be in your arms or by your side before finding the courage to play with others. Children need “a loving ally as they take even the smallest step”. Parent support, in other words, is essential to venture out where they don’t feel completely comfortable and gain confidence. But it takes a lot of patience, because “internalizing the sense of security could take a long time.”
4) Do scary fun and safe things every day
Boldness and courage can be trained and developed, and having “fun, safe and a little scary adventures, just enough to be exciting”, can be helpful in defying fear. “Children, in fact, to reprogram their anxious brain, need to experience first-hand that life can be scary, safe and fun at the same time”. And they can experience it through small daily challenges. “For many children – for example – it is easier to find this security in outdoor physical adventures, such as climbing rocks or …