Fear, Part One

Dear Dr. Wind:  My child is afraid of many things the dark, thunderstorms,  clowns, new people and experiences.  What can I do to help him deal with his fears?


Answer:  Before considering strategies to deal with fears, let us first examine fear.  Fear is one of the basic human emotions.  All people feel afraid sometimes.  In its normal function, fear serves a critical purpose.  It keeps us safe both by warning us of possible danger and by allowing us to either fight the danger or run fast enough to escape it.  As children grow up they need to learn to differentiate between real and imagined danger.  This means that some fears are natural at one stage of development (the stranger anxiety of infancy) but become pathological at another (the social phobia of a teenager.)

Because fear releases adrenaline, a natural stimulant, it, like other stimulants, can be addictive.  This means some people, both adults and children, like to feel afraid just for the thrill of it.  Witness the popularity of scary movies, monster roller coasters and spine-tingling video games.

It is important to remember that children are very suggestible.  They can “catch” a fear from a friend, a movie, a television program, a book, a computer game or a video game.  Keep track of what your children are reading, watching, playing, especially if you know they tend to be easily scared or influenced. 

It is good for the parents of a fearful child to examine their own attitudes about fear and see if these attitudes might be having an impact on the child.  A parent who is overly fearful can also pass on this trait.  Fear is as contagious as the common cold.

If your son says,” I’m scared,” a good strategy is to assure him that it is natural to feel that way sometimes and to comfort him with a hug and words affirming that he his safe with you.  If you keep asking your son what he is afraid of, he will eventually give you an answer just to get you off his back. 

If your son expresses a specific fear like, “I’m afraid of the dark!,” ask him what he finds dangerous or frightening in the dark.  Keep asking “what” kinds of questions to examine the fear in as close detail as possible with the ultimate goal of helping your son realize his fear is completely irrational. 

More advice to follow in next time's part-two blog!