October 10, 2020 — By Wendy Sachs
The month of October for many is full of fun, candy, laughter and spooky surprise. But for many children, being afraid is never fun. It can be debilitating and cause the month of Halloween to be full of anxiety.
There are a few things you can do to help kids manage this tough emotion. Fear is there to protect us; it keeps us out of trouble and helps us calculate risk. So we don’t want to send a message to kids to ignore that feeling. Instead we want to give them tools to manage that emotion and sort out true danger from their imagination. In the same way you might help kids manage their anger with self-regulation skills; you can help them get a handle on fear.
Real v Imagination
First up, know that developmentally, younger kids may not be able to reason out what is real from what is imaginary. So you will still need to be super supportive and help them when the monster under their bed is all too real.
Power of Talk
Next, start by helping kids to talk about what they are afraid of, and be specific. It seems counterintuitive, that we should encourage more talk about what is bothering them, but giving kids the power to talk about it actually is the first step in gaining control. It also helps you know what the actual problem might be.
Next, assure them that you are there to help and that it is perfectly natural for them to be afraid. Even you are afraid sometimes. Validating emotions is necessary always so never make a child feel that their response is wrong.
Go to the place of problem solving, “how do you think we can work through this together?” Maybe it is monster spray, maybe it is being around a loud dog for only a minute every day until it is easier. Whatever you choose, see if you can get your child to suggest some possible answers and try them. You can also try reading stories about what are scary or using toys like stuffed dogs. Children who are afraid of being alone can try being in a different room away from you for a minute at a time and build up from there. Halloween frights can be viewed in the daytime first from a distance and move up to closer and in the dark.
Encourage Handling the Issue
Whatever the fear, the most important thing is to encourage your child to know they can handle it. While you want to be supportive, you don’t want to “protect” them. Don’t shy away from the fear as ultimately we want kids to feel they can handle the situation. We are all afraid of things, but as adults we have the experience to know we are capable of navigating the situation. That is what we want for our kids.
Finally, know that progress may be slow. Especially in this time of increased stress and uncertainty, the world feels out of control for many children. This is when fear feels overwhelming. It’s ok to be afraid. In a sense, most of us are operating that way these days. But remembering times that we have overcome fears will see us through. Be patient and know that together you and your child can conquer things together!