How To Help Kids Cope With Childhood Fears

When checking under the bed for monsters just won't do...

At 16, I took a trip to New York City. As I was wandering through the giant Toys R Us in Times Square, I looked up and found myself face to face with a life-sized, animatronic E.T. I did what any rational person would do—I shrieked while jumping out of my skin.

To most, he is a loveable character from an endearing classic children’s movie, but to me, he is the freakiest mofo ever. Give me Pennywise any day. I laugh in that silly clown’s face—but keep that alien away from me.

E.T. doesn’t keep me up at night in fear. He’s only scary when he pops up out of nowhere (which happens with surprising regularity), but as a kid, that dude haunted my every thought.

My parents tried reasoning with me. They told me that not only was E.T. played by an actress in a costume, but the actress herself was dead. No dice. They let me keep the hall light on. Did you know an office chair in the hallway looks a whole lot like E.T.? Eventually, my mom gave up and played solitaire outside my room until I fell asleep from then until, I don’t know? Infinity? You see, my fear of E.T. morphed into a fear of aliens in general, followed by snipers outside the windows, and just about anything else you can think of. I was married before I could sleep with the light and/or TV off.

Of all the things I passed down to my children, I’m sad this is one of them. The night before the eclipse, we were up with my youngest for hours, reassuring him he would not go blind when the sunlight came through his window in the morning.

My oldest has been through every fear in the books, just like his mother. Also like his mother, he has to have the lights on at night. I’m now in the position where I feel for them because I know what it feels like to be scared at night—but I also feel bad for putting my parents through this, because it is exhausting to have to parent well into the night after a long day.

Childhood fears are inevitable for some children, but here are a few ways you can ease them.

Validate Their Feelings

Until age five or six, children have a very difficult time separating real from pretend. It's even part of the kindergarten curriculum. Telling them monsters aren’t real doesn’t work because they are very real to them. Instead, it gives them the impression that you don’t believe them. You don’t need to confirm that their irrational fears are rational, just that you believe they believe them to be real. “I don’t think monsters are real. I’ve never seen one, and I’ve never heard of anything that says they are real. But I believe you believe they are real, so let’s figure out how we’re going to get rid of them.”

Give Them Something Action-Oriented

Fears make children feel powerless. If you give them something to do when a fear creeps up, they will feel more in control of the situation. If they are afraid of monsters, ghosts or something else imaginary, give them an empty spray bottle labelled “Invisible monster spray” to repel any monster they see. Set up a booby trap by the door that will catch any monsters that try to enter or teach them a chant for protection: “Monster, monster, go away. Don’t come back another day.” 

It really doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it lets the child be in control and actively do something to combat their fear.

Try to Give a Logical Explanation

If your child is old enough, and there is a way to explain away a situation, try it. If they are scared of shadows, teach them how to make shadow puppets so they understand how shadows work, then point out the objects that are making the shadows they are scared of. If they are worried about something happening to them or someone they love, talk to them about why, and come up with a plan of action to prevent it. Our Scaredy Squirrel-style step-by-step eclipse blindness prevention plan is what finally convinced my son to go back to sleep.

Allow a Pet to Sleep in the Room with Them

If it is safe to do so, this is a great option. My mom gave me a little bag of kibble to coax the dog up to bed with me every night as a kid. She let the dog back out once I was asleep. My nine-year-old knows that the cat is not likely to protect him in the event of danger, but having her in there makes him feel more secure. If a pet is not a safe option, or you don’t have a pet, try a special stuffy or object that is specifically there to look out for them. Our Elf on the Shelf is here year-round partly for this reason.

Ask Them What Will Make Them Feel Safer

Sometimes, this answer is very simple. It might even be as easy as keeping your door and theirs open until they fall asleep so they know you will hear them if they call. Of course, this opens up the possibility of them requesting something unreasonable, but it gives you a starting point for a compromise. The more you are able to tailor the solution to the fear itself and to their coping mechanisms, the better it will be.

Childhood fears are tough, but they can be managed, and they are usually outgrown. Well, at least until you run headlong into life-sized versions of them at Toys R Us . . .

New On the Baby Post


You May Also Like...

Register For Our Newsletter Contests Video

Latest Comments

Start Here: Introductions

Hi there! Someone in my Myspace group shared this site with us so I came to give it a look. I'm definitely loving the information. I'm

gabriellir 3 years 1 week ago.

Start Here: Introductions

Hi there! Someone in my Myspace group shared this site with us so I came to give it a look. I'm definitely loving the information. I'm boo

gabriellir 3 years 1 week ago.

Start Here: Introductions

Hello there! I know this is somewhat off topic but I was wondering which blog platform are you using for this website? I'm getting sick and

lavinal62 3 years 1 week ago.

Product Recalls Attention

HarperCollins Publishers recalls Two "That’s Not My…" Children’s Books

HarperCollins has recalled That’s Not My Reindeer and That’s Not My Santa kids’ books due to possible mould contamination

Joe Fresh Recalls Striped Quilted Baby Jackets

Due to a choking hazard, Loblaw Companies has recalled Joe Fresh Baby Jackets

Costco Recalls Kirkland Signature Brand Quinoa Salad

Costco Wholesale Canada has issued a recall of the Kirkland Signature brand Quinoa Salad because of reported illnesses.