One great thing about watching our babies grow is witnessing them become more imaginative. With that overactive imagination though can come fear of boogie monsters, dragons, ghosts, and the like. As parents, how do we deal with this anxiety in children?
Well, we can look to the SARS epidemic as an example of what to do and what not to do when managing fear.
If respected doctors tell you that there is no reason to be afraid of SARS in Toronto, but then cancel their own conference in the same city, the public deduces that if the experts think there is something to fear, then there must be.
To “less knowledgeable” children, you are the “expert” on everything. If you say “there is no such things as monsters” and then promptly check under the bed, you may unintentionally be demonstrating a reason why they should be afraid. “Heck even the experts are checking the beds and closets!”
We cannot control our children’s fears, but how we react to them can work to either support or de-emphasize them. One strategy is to be “unimpressed” (neither dismissive nor all consumed) and talk in a matter of fact fashion. Don’t waver in your conviction that there are no monsters by saying things like, “Really? You saw a monster in your closet. What did he look like?” It is more comforting to say “There are no such things as monsters. You are creating them with your imagination. And what a wonderful imagination it is!”
Coping Strategies For Fear
Teach your children coping techniques to help them work through their fears. Try some of these responses to help them overcome their anxiety:
“I understand that you are afraid, but I know you are safe and I would never let anything harm you, so you need to think happy warm thoughts instead of scary thoughts. That will help you get to sleep.”
“You’ll have to have a little talk with that imagination of yours and let it know that it is getting in the way of sleeping.”
“When you decide it’s bugging you so much that you have to stop thinking those thoughts – I am sure you will!”
“If watching this video or movie before bed makes you imagine scary things, perhaps you would like to watch something else at bedtime.”
Watch For “The Hidden Pay-off”
Don’t give a “hidden pay-off” by giving your child exceptional service such as letting them sleep in your bed, or keeping you hostage in their room until they fall asleep. If you enjoy caring for your child in these loving ways, do it because you want to. Don’t make them create “issues” to mobilize you into this type of affection or they’ll learn to use issues as a technique to get you to care for them.
About the Author:
Alyson Schafer is a psychotherapist and one of Canada’s most notable parenting experts. She is the resident expert on The Marilyn Denis Show, CTV News Channel and CBC’s The World This Weekend. Alyson is an “Ask an Expert” Columnist for Today’s Parent Magazine, and sits on the Health Advisory Board for Chatelaine Magazine. Alyson is the best selling author of “Breaking The Good Mom Myth” and “Honey, I Wrecked The Kids” and her latest, “Ain’t Misbehavin”. She is an international speaker including the inaugural TEDxKids in Brussels and offers free parenting tips at www.alysonschafer.com