Helping Children Overcome Fear
By Debbie Milam, OTR, reprinted with permission
Our children are often barometers to our emotional states. What this simply means is that when we are experiencing emotions our children experience the same emotions but often in more obvious ways. When we are fearful are children are often fearful. In addition, by nature children are more fearful because of their vivid imaginations. So what steps can we take to help our children let go of the fear?
Let go of your own fear: Our children need to have a sense that we are courageous, strong, and will protect them. At some time or another we all do become fearful in front of our children. If this happens turn it into a teachable moment. Simply acknowledge the emotion to your children and show them how you are working toward releasing your fear.
Turn off the news: As negative as the news is for adults it is even more fear evoking for a child. Teach your children about world events by reading the newspaper together. Spend some time talking about these events and encourage your children to come up with creative ways to resolve problems.
Monitor T.V. choices: If your children are already fearful watching violent T.V. shows will only create more fear. Opt for shows that emulate your family's values.
Have children write out their fears in a journal: If they are too young to write have them dictate the words to you. By writing fearful thoughts down they are no longer a part of them. After writing out their fears have them answer several questions:
What can I learn from this fear?
What can I change that will help me feel safer?
What are five blessings in my life?
Pray together: Teaching children that there is a force beyond themselves that they can turn to when they are fearful is extremely powerful. This force can be God, the universe, the angels, Allah, Buddha, Krishna, or Christ. Teach your children to call upon whatever divine force your family believes in.
Teach children to meditate: Children are perfect candidates for meditation because they have such vivid imaginations. A simple way to begin is to have your child find a quiet spot where they won't be disturbed. Have them lie down or sit in a chair. Have them close your eyes. Ask them to take a deep breath in through your nose and feel the breath travel down into their belly. Have them hold the breath for several seconds and exhale through their mouth. Repeat this 3 times. Also teach them to do this type of breathing whenever they are having a fearful moment. Then have them begin counting backwards from 10 to 1. After they are in this relaxed state, have them imagine themselves blowing up a balloon, placing all of their fears in the balloon, and then releasing their fear-filled balloon to the universe. Once they have released their fear ask them to imagine the highest outcome for any situation they are fearful of. Our meditation CD The Miracle is You can help guide your children on a journey to let go of fear.
Teach your children heart magic: By placing their hands over their heart and breathing deeply they can bring an enormous sense of peace to themselves. To breath in this way simply have your child take a deep breath in through their nose, and have them imagine the breath traveling down into their heart. Ask them to hold the breath in their heart for a moment and have them imagine something that makes them feel safe. Then have them let go of the breath through their mouth. For the greatest benefit have them repeat these steps ten times.
Spend time with your children outside in nature: Nature has a wonderfully calming effect on the body, mind, and spirit, especially on children. Take time when they are fearful to visit the beach, a park, or the mountains.
Listen to beautiful music together: New Age, Classical, Jazz, or Nature Sounds helps to quiet down fearful thoughts in children.
Begin introducing whatever they are afraid of slowly: If they are afraid of dogs, first read several picture books on puppies. Then walk by a pet store window. Then walk into the pet store and look at the puppies in cages. Then have your child watch you hold and pet a puppy. Finally, ask your child to pet the puppy when you are holding it. The key to this technique is being very patient and praising all of your child's efforts to overcome their fear.
Read uplifting inspiring books to your children: Just as we do, our children need to be inspired. When they are experiencing fearful thoughts help them find inspiration in books of poetry, spirituality, and stories of how others have overcome fear. Some wonderful books are Tiny Rabbit, Whemberly Worries, and Let's Talk About Being Afraid.
Provide an object that helps them feel safe and protected: This can be a religious symbol, an angel, or a cozy blanket.
Spray Monster Spray: Also works for bad dreams, thunder, and any other scary thoughts. Tell your children that when you spray this spray they will be safe and protected. Many health food stores sell aromatherapy sprays. Ones that are especially calming are vanilla, lavender, and orange. Please make sure that you use only ones that are essential oil based and not chemically based. Also please do not spray near your children's eyes.
Spend time talking about their fears: Sometimes children just need to express what is on their mind. Work together to seek solutions for overcoming fear.
If your children's fear is limiting them from enjoying life seek professional help: There are wonderful play therapists that can help children let go of fear.
As parents there are so many ways we can encourage our children to face their fears and overcome them. By empowering them with these strategies they can truly achieve their highest potential.
Debbie Milam is a pediatric occupational therapist and motivational speaker. She developed Lunchboxes of Love reusable love notes and The Miracle Is You meditation CD, both for children. Visit her website for more information.