As parents, we usually want to protect our children from all painful or emotionally difficult situations. When our child seems to be afraid without any specific reason, we feel helpless and want it all to go away. Difficult emotions, however, can still be healthy and completely normal states in every human being. They should be brought to the surface and discussed. So how can you talk with your child about his fears in a healthy way?
Although we sometimes use these words interchangeably, fear and anxiety express different states and constitute separate terms.
Fear is a reaction to specific dangers, real situations, e.g. fear of a dog running towards us or of cars passing close by. This condition motivates us to act, e.g. flee and is short-lived. When the danger passes, we quickly return to emotional balance.
Anxiety, however, is based on anticipating danger, imagining what might happen to us, e.g. being anxious about injections, falling aeroplanes, etc. Anxiety is a very subjective feeling associated with life experiences, beliefs, but also with temperament.
It is worth noting that in children there are also developmental fears occurring at certain stages of life, e.g. fear of noise in 2-year-olds or ghosts, monsters in preschoolers.
There is no one right recipe for talking to a child who is afraid, but we have several proven tips to help the conversation run more smoothly and effectively.
1. Notice and name the fears
Instead of closing the child’s emotions with phrases such as “don’t be afraid of anything” or “such a big girl and she can’t ride a bike”, let’s try to confirm our interest in the toddler’s emotions. We can do it by saying e.g. “I see that it scared you”, “are you afraid?”, “but it was terrible, right?” Such messages show our interest in the child’s internal world and our readiness to support them. Importantly, let’s give the child as much time to experience his emotions as he needs. Let’s not rush him with sentences like “stop crying now” or “enough of those tears”. Here we need our attitude to be full of acceptance and empathy.
2. Respect and support the child’s emotions
When your child is experiencing difficult emotions, it is sometimes good to stop looking from an adult’s perspective and try to look with a toddler’s eyes. It is good to show support with the words “I imagine how much you were afraid” and “I would be terrified too.” Underestimating fears will make a child feel that his emotions are inadequate in the eyes of an adult, as well as strange or unnecessary. This is not conducive to building a sense of security and openness in the child the next time he has these fears. It also questions the child’s confidence in himself and makes him feel bad, that he cannot cope with the situation that the parent deems to be simple and normal. As a result, the child remains lonely with his own problem.
3. Look for ways to ease panic attacks
A child may not always express his emotions in a way that falls within generally accepted standards. Children have different emotional thresholds, unusual sensitivity and process these emotional states in their heads in very distinctive ways. Not only emotional but also physical help may be a good supportive solution. Replacing the usual blanket with a weighted one has helped many parents. How does it work? Heavier filling of the sensory blanket stimulates receptors in the body that are also responsible for detecting threats. As a result, the child’s brain receives information that his body is located safely and securely in a given place and time so that the mechanisms responsible for the “fight or flight” response are turned off. The blanket also affects deep feeling, which means that the brain interprets the cover the same way as hugging a loved one, which has a calming and soothing effect. Covering our child with a blanket during panic or anxiety attacks can help them return to emotional balance faster. CBD oil for children has a similar calming and stress-neutralizing effect, its usage helps calm down and relax while sharpening focus.
4. Talk about your experiences
Children love to listen to stories about their parents. Even more so, stories in which they can hear about themselves! That is why it is extremely important when supporting a child in panic or anxiety to relate to our own childhood emotions with ways to overcome these feelings. Such stories will have a calming effect, and in addition, the child’s imagination can dispel bad thoughts by building them up with their parents’ stories. In addition, such a procedure shows that the child is not ’someone else’ or ‘strange’ because everyone is afraid of something, including adults and including Mum and Dad! To strengthen the child’s sense of security, you can also reiterate all the situations where the toddler managed to overcome trouble or stress.