When I was a kid, I used to be afraid of everything! Snakes, darkness, storms, elevators – you get the idea. I was a total wimp! Rumor has it that if there was a big storm that I’d go to my youngest sister and jump in bed with her. Ok, that’s actually a true story. But it was just because I didn’t want her to be scared. I swear!
Fortunately for me (and my sister!), I’ve grown up a lot and I’m not afraid of most of the things on that list anymore. Not as much anyways. But as my girls grow up, I’m starting to hear and see some of the same fearful tendencies in them and kids their age.
In fact, one of our nieces (who is 9 years old) stayed the night recently and was telling me about a scary incident at her house. She recalled the events to me in clear detail. They live out in the country with no houses around them and she and her siblings were home alone. A car pulled up their long driveway and they saw that there were two younger-looking guys in the car who just sat in the driveway for a long time and stared at the house. The dog was going crazy. The kids were panicking and called their parents. All of them were all afraid.
The next day, one of my daughters was telling me about her and her cousin’s late-night conversations. She told how our niece is now afraid to be alone (with her siblings) while their parents are gone and how she is concerned about bad things happening. Fear has taken hold of her.
As parents, what can we say to help our kids (or grandkids) deal with fear? Here are a few ideas.
Tell the Truth (Mostly)
The goal should be to help kids appropriately deal with fear without causing more of it. Think about the story with my niece, as an example.
Her parents (who happen to be excellent parents) could say to her: “You know what, people are crazy and those boys were probably up to no good. The world is not safe these days. I am just so grateful they didn’t kick in the door and try to hurt you!” This approach is clearly not helpful!
They could have said something like instead: “You kids did the right thing by locking the doors and calling your dad right away. You were wise to stay together and call for help. I doubt anything was going on, but it’s good to be safe and not sorry. I’m proud of the way you handled everything.”
A kid’s world is pretty small but their imaginations tend to be big. Parents can tell kids the truth without going into too much detail or exposing them to realities of dangerous things that are still highly unlikely to directly affect their lives.
Know Their Personalities
My wife and I have 4 kids – all girls. Each one is uniquely themselves. As such, how I talk to them will vary. Some of our kids tend to worry more than others. Some are more confident and care-free. The point is, as parents, we have to know how much to share with our kids based on their personalities, maturity levels, and how they handle adversity.
As our kids get older, they can handle more depth. But we have to understand that they need information from us so that they can be wise and understand how to handle life appropriately. However, that doesn’t mean that we have to give them every possible scenario or give them information that will cause more harm than good.
Only a wise and discerning parent can truly know and decide what this means for each kid.
Teach Them Perspective
The world can be a messy place and technology makes it easier to see all of the bad news and tragic stories. It is important, then, to help our kids to have a proper perspective of the events and tragedies that they see so often.
For example, let’s look at my niece’s example again.
We live in a small town where crime is almost non-existent. Do bad things happen here? Absolutely. Is it likely or common? No. That is as true as the fact that bad things “could” happen. It is important, then, to help our kids see those bad things are possible and to give them the wisdom to know how to be as prepared as then can be. However, we must help them to not dwell on the negative or to see every bad thing as an inevitable scenario that they are likely to face. It’s simply not true. Perspective is key.
Bad things happen. That’s part of life. But so is emotional strength and learning to deal with fear appropriately. As you guide your kids through life, help them to learn to thrive at it by not letting fear cripple them. Be sure to mix in wisdom with the truth and help guide your kids with tools like these so that they can handle fear with courage and confidence.
What works (or worked) for you? What advice would you give to help children deal with fear?