How to Help the Fearful Child

Who wouldn’t be afraid of monsters under the bed? Or the boogey man? Or menacing noises on a dark night?


Many youngsters experience age-appropriate fears, needing closet doors completely closed and bedroom doors open “just so” at nighttime. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics estimates that 45 percent of kids ages six to 12 have multiple fears.

Should You Fret About Fears?
As they mature, most children come to understand that there are no monsters or boogey men. But what about the child whose ongoing fears interfere with her development and sociability?

According to Evanston-based child therapist Alisa Lewin-Waldman, LCSW, there’s a difference between the fears that come with classic cognitive development and those that are beyond predicted expectations.

“If your child cannot be comforted, that is not in the norm,” Lewin-Waldman says. “Oftentimes, what’s concerning is not so much what they’re afraid of, but the intensity of the feeling.”

While some kids are clearly wired to be more fretful or anxious, their responses can be tempered with help.

No More Witches’ – Empowering Your Child
Lewin-Waldman recognizes that a one-size-fits-all solution for overcoming childhood frights does not exist, but she suggests these tips for working with your fearful little friend:

Play out what she’s afraid of. Let your child be in command. For example, if Susie is frightened by witches, making a sign that reads “No Witches Allowed” may give her a sense of power or mastery of the situation. Role-playing, where the child conquers his fear, is beneficial, too.

“Play is the language of coping for children,” Lewin-Waldman says.

Draw whatever is scary and then throw the drawing away. Doing so allows your child to create and then destroy, thereby “conquering,” the thing that creates fear. Don’t be overly upset by violent images, particularly from boys.

Be alert if a child’s fear is focused on a care-giver or someone with whom he has previously been close. The sudden change of heart may indicate a scary or abusive encounter.

Most importantly, don’t diminish your child’s emotions. Youngsters know that their feelings are real, making it hard to understand that what’s scary isn’t.
After three months of parental intervention, if the situation hasn’t changed for the better, it’s probably time to seek other options. Talk with your pediatrician or consult with a qualified child therapist.