By Zaakirah Mohamed
“Mum can you leave the light on, I am scared of the dark” screamed four year old Julian. Julian cried that the monsters come when the light goes out. At this age a child’s fear becomes enormous. Children are exposed to many new things, at times it is fascinating and at other times this creates the fear of the unknown. Some children will jump at noises such as gates closing, the toilet flushing etc. Children also have difficulty separating reality from fantasy or what they see on television. Julian for example could have watched a program about monsters and thus his fear arose. The source of fears evolves as the child matures.
Children will usually say “I am scared”, “I don’t want to do that” but other children may not have the language to express what they are feeling. They may cry, become restless and irritable. At times children’s fears transfer into somatic conditions such as stomach pain, nausea, headaches etc. One needs to rule out medical courses and if it is related to anxiety, a pattern can be seen whenever a child is exposed to their fear or trigger.
The first step is to acknowledge the child’s fear, take it seriously and encourage your child to talk about their feelings. Never make fun of the fear or tease the child. However this does not mean that we avoid all situations or objects which cause their fear as this will make the fear even larger than it is. In Julian’s case we should not be looking under the bed to see if there are monsters as this reinforces the idea that the monsters could have been there. Having said that we need to remember to expose a child to their fear slowly and in small steps for example, if a child is afraid of a dog, show them pictures of dogs, then let them say hello to a dog from a distance etc.
One needs to provide the child with safety tips for example tell the child that he/she should first ask the owner of the dog if it is friendly. We can also use a playful approach, so in the case of Julian, perhaps get Julian to draw a picture of the monster with a funny face. An effective tool for any child to have is relaxation techniques such as breathing exercise. One has to note that it is best to carry this method under a controlled environment with guidance e.g. therapy. One of the effective therapy methods to treat fears and anxiety is cognitive behaviour therapy.
Cognitive behaviour therapy challenges the way a person thinks and behaves. It is imperative to seek help when the fear interferes with a child’s physical, social and emotional functioning, for example Julian’s fear of the dark will make him reluctant to go for sleep overs or a child who fears a dog maybe uneasy when playing in a park .
Contact me to assist your child overcome their fear.