Helping Children Deal With Their Fears


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Children are not blind to the world around them. They see the news. They hear what adults are talking about. Yet children can't sort out what is really a threat. They need help from parents and other caring adults to cope with their fears. This information is intended to help you recognize when children are upset, and gives suggestions on how to talk with them about their fears.

How can I tell if my child is worried?

Here are a few things to look for that might mean your child is fearful:

  • Loss of interest in normal activities
  • Change in appetite or sleep habits
  • Tearfulness
  • Return to earlier habits such as bedwetting, thumb sucking or difficulty sharing with other children
  • Unwillingness to leave parents

What can I do to help my child?

Create a safe environment for your child at home where it is okay to ask questions. By listening carefully to what your child says, you can reassure him or her and explain any misconceptions. Make it clear to your child that he or she is safe and keep daily activities as close to normal as possible. Pay attention to how much television your child is watching. You may want to turn off the television or at least watch it together and talk about what you see.

What else can I do?

Show your child that you aren't overly concerned. Remember that children often pick up cues from the adults around them. Even if you've worked hard to protect your child from fear, he or she may sense your fears or those of other adults or relatives. Often, children think discomfort is a sign that they shouldn't ask questions or talk about their worries. It can even seem to children that they've done something wrong. Give your child plenty of chances to ask questions and express his or her feelings. Sometimes it can be easier to ask about how other children are reacting as a way to begin the conversation.

How much information should I give my child?

The amount and type of information you give your child depends on many things. This includes the child's age, past experiences and stage of development. Begin with basic facts and then ask questions to check your child's understanding. Remember that graphic details are not necessary.

What if I need more help?

If you are unable to talk with your child about his or her fears or need more advice, talk to your family doctor.

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 07/12
Created: 01/02

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