‘Tis the season for all things spooky – or is it?
If you walk around your neighborhood grocery store, costume shop, or hardware store this Halloween season, you’ll probably see children of all ages stare in awe at skeletons, ghosts, and other creepy creatures. The season itself seems to desensitize us to these scary sights – but what about children who may be more fearful about the world around them? How can parents and other caring adults support children with fears, and when might it be a good idea to reach out for additional help?
As a caring adult, here are 3 ways to help a child cope with their fears:
1. Listen – if Johnny appears avoidant or says he’s afraid of something, ask him to tell you about it. Do your best to put yourself in his shoes and accept where he is right now. Give him permission to feel what he is feeling. Praise him for his bravery in sharing these fears with you.
2. Reassure - all children process “scary” things differently. One school-aged child may be afraid of the dark, but another may not. Julie may understand when an adult explains that monsters are “not real” while Sally may find it more difficult to conceptualize this. Children develop thoughts and feelings about the world based on several factors, including their age/developmental level, temperament/personality, family beliefs, and their own experiences. Children who have experienced trauma may be all the more vigilant and fearful. One way to reassure the child is to meet them where they are and work together to find ways for them to feel safe in their environment.
3. Go at their pace – it can be hard to see your child in a state of distress. As adults we want to help children feel better as soon as possible. We may also feel that it is our job to make children face their fears. We encourage you to consider this as an opportunity to help your child create a blueprint for how they will cope with fears in the future. Start with small steps to help them feel comfortable. Perhaps this means they will have a night light on at night, or that your child will want to help you lock the doors or turn on the alarm. They may need an extra hug while they work through these feelings.
They may be eager to go to a Halloween party, but are not sure what to expect. Your role can be to help prepare them for what costumes they may see and who will be around to help them feel safe. You can offer to find a party together with a more lighthearted theme. You may also help them identify areas of the party to avoid, such as a haunted house. At the end of the evening, you can ask them to share the highs and lows of the party and find opportunities to highlight their courage!
If you have tried these suggestions and feel that your child’s fears are worsening, or that they are experiencing symptoms such as nightmares/sleep disturbances, excessive worry, irritability, or other behavioral concerns, it may be appropriate to reach out to a trained therapist who can help target these needs. Reclaim Counseling and Wellness has trained child and family therapists that use evidence-based strategies to help children and families work on difficult feelings and behaviors.