Fear as Your Insurance Policy
Without fear, we’d jump headlong into things we shouldn’t. So, a little fear is good!
Anxiety is defined as “apprehension without apparent cause.” It usually occurs when there’s no immediate threat to a person’s safety or well-being, but the threat feels real. Anxiety makes someone want to escape the situation — fast. The heart beats quickly, the body might begin to perspire, and “butterflies” in the stomach soon follow. And kids are no exception to this phenomenon.
Typical childhood fears change with age. They include fears of strangers, heights, darkness, animals, blood, insects, and being left alone. Kids often learn to fear a specific object or situation after having an unpleasant experience, such as a dog bite or an accident. Separation anxiety is common when young children are starting school. If anxious feelings persist, they can take a toll on a child’s well-being. For example, a child with a fear of being rejected can fail to learn important social skills, causing social isolation.
Many adults are tormented by fears that stem from childhood experiences. An adult’s fear of public speaking may be the result of embarrassment in front of their peers many years prior. It’s therefore important for parents to recognize and identify the signs and symptoms of kids’ anxieties, so that fears don’t get in the way of their everyday life in the future.
Some signs that a child may be anxious about something may include:
- becoming clingy, impulsive, or distracted
- nervous movements, such as temporary twitches
- problems getting to sleep and/or staying asleep longer than usual
- sweaty hands
- accelerated heart rate and breathing
But children who are able to experience the slight rush of anxiety that often occurs prior to a math test or a big track race often can enhance their performance. However, experiencing too much anxiety or general nervousness, at inappropriate times, can be extremely distressing and interfering. Although children have fears of specific objects, the feeling of anxiety is more general…children may feel constantly “keyed up” or extremely alert. When anxieties and fears persist, the cause of the anxiety looms larger and becomes more prevalent. The anxiety, then, becomes a phobia, or a fear that’s extreme, severe, and persistent.
So, how to deal with your anxious child?
- Recognize that the fear is real. Never belittle the fear. As trivial as a fear may seem, it feels real to your child and it’s causing them to feel anxious and afraid. Being able to talk about fears helps — words often take some of the power out of the negative feeling. If you talk about it, it can become less powerful.
- Don’t cater to fears, though. If your child doesn’t like dogs, don’t cross the street deliberately to avoid one. This will just reinforce the idea that dogs should be feared and avoided. Provide support and gentle care as you approach the feared object or situation with your child.
- Teach coping strategies. Using you as “home base,” your child can venture out toward the feared object, and then return to you for safety before venturing out again. Kids also can learn some positive self-statements (such as “I can do this” and “I will be OK”) to say to themselves when feeling anxious. Relaxation techniques are helpful, including deep breathing.
But, on a more positive note, your child’s fear is a mark of an alert brain that is sensitive enough to identify the stimuli from their surroundings. It’s, hence, your child’s insurance policy since being absolutely fearless might encourage your child to jump off a cliff. Too much of anything is, of course, bad. So, inculcate a balanced behavior in your child in order to avoid abrupt and abnormal reactions to sudden events.