This post is the third emotion specific post in a series of posts that I am writing about supporting children under age 5 in learning about and coping with their emotions. This post focuses on fear. You can read the introduction to this series and find the other posts in this series here.
Fear is the word I have chosen to use for this post, but you may use a different word to describe this same experience. Afraid and scared are two common words used to describe this experience. The emotion that I am writing about in this post is an intense fear of something, someone or some event. It is different than anxiety or worry which will be addressed in another post soon.
How can you tell when your child is feeling fearful? How does your child act when he or she is afraid? What are things that typically cause your child to be afraid?
A child who is experiencing fear may cry, run to you for comfort or freeze. If your child is verbal, he or she may be able to describe what causes fear. Some children may experience nightmares about the things that they fear.
Children can be fearful of many different types of things including; the dark, monsters, bugs, separation from their parents, dogs or other animals and more.
Fear can be a tricky emotion to navigate with young children as they are often fearful of things that are unlikely to occur or cause them harm. It can be difficult to find the right balance of acknowledging that we hear our child’s fear with appropriate education and reassurance. We don’t want our children to feel like we minimized their emotions and make them feel unheard, misunderstood or “wrong” for being fearful, but also want to help them challenge unrealistic or unhelpful fears.
How can I help my children when they experience fear?
Set a strong foundation, so your child can approach you when feeling fearful.
- As I’ve written in other posts, it is important to focus on creating an environment where your child feels comfortable sharing their emotions. You may find my previous posts about building your child’s feelings vocabulary and helping children share their emotions helpful.
- Normalize feeling fearful at times. Tell your child that everyone experiences times where they are afraid. Children are often surprised to hear that adults feel afraid, too! Be cautious about the examples you use. You don’t want to contribute to your child becoming fearful of something that they are just fine with right now. 🙂
- Talk about parent vs. child roles. Utilize this conversation as a time to tell your children that it is your responsibility to take actions that keep them safe.
- Talk with your children about the support people in their lives that they can turn to for help when they feel scared.
In the moment:
- Reassure your child that you are there for them and will keep them safe.
- If appropriate, guide your child through a calming strategy. Deep breathing, safe place visualization and the use of a calming mantra may be strategies to consider. Check out this previous post if you would like some examples of possible calming strategies for children.
- If your child is able to talk about what is causing them fear, give them space to do so. Listen carefully as how your children talk about their fear may give you insight into how to help your children address the fear.
- Determine how to address your child’s fear. Often times, I like to encourage children to be detectives and research their fear further. More information (and accurate information) can often help alleviate the child’s fear.
What other tips do you have for helping children under age five cope with fear? Feel free to share your tip in the comments below.
I’ll be sharing another post in this series soon. Leave me a comment letting me know what other emotions you hope I will address.
If you are in the Eagan, Minnesota area and would like to have some hands on support in implementing some of the above strategies, you may want to consider the upcoming 4 week Emotions & Me psychoeducational group for children ages 2-5 and a caregiver. During each group meeting we will focus on exploring one emotion and age-appropriate ways to express and cope with that emotion.