Helping Children Deal With Fear
Do you remember having fears as a child? Maybe you were afraid of the dark or afraid of that big dog from down the street. Children also have fears today. As our communities, nation, and world deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, there is even more cause for fear.
THEIR WORLD HAS CHANGED
Day care centers and preschools have closed for preschoolers and the school year has changed for school-age children as they do schoolwork from home. Children may see reports on the news about hospitals being overwhelmed and basic supplies running low. They hear of people being sick and hear of many people dying from the coronavirus. Churches have cancelled services and people cannot meet together. When children leave home, they often see people wearing masks.
The events surrounding the pandemic can bring about fear in children. They might be fearful that they will not move up to the next grade if they cannot finish this school year. They might have fears about getting sick, or their parents or siblings getting sick. Seeing people in masks may bring about fear. If a parent has lost a job, a child might become fearful that the family will not have enough to eat. Children may experience more fear than normal as they may not understand all that is happening around them.
THEIR FEARS ARE REAL
All children have fears, and their fears are real to them. Some fears are based on a traumatic incident that has happened to the child. If a child has been through the trauma of a natural disaster such as a tornado or hurricane, we can understand their fear when another storm is near. Some types of fears may seem to have no logical basis or even seem silly to us as adults, but to the child the fear is real. Three-year-old Thomas had a fear of the vacuum cleaner. The fear seemed like nonsense to me, but it was a genuine fear to Thomas. As adults we have to remember that a child’s fear is sincere. Keep this in mind as you help your child deal with fears related to the coronavirus.
YOU CAN HELP THEM COPE
As a parent, your natural desire is to help your child overcome his fears. You can help your child cope with fears in the following ways:
- Listen to your child. Talking about a specific fear may help your child learn to deal with it. Listen to what he says and how he talks about the fear.
- Recognize your child’s fear without passing judgement by laughing or saying unkind words.
- Answer your child’s questions honestly. Clear up any misconceptions your child may have in relation to the fear. Keep your answers simple and age appropriate.
- Model a calm attitude for your child to follow. If you respond to a situation in fear or panic, your child will pick up emotional cues from you.
- Prepare your child when you know he will face a fearful situation. For example, if your child is fearful of people wearing masks, show him the mask he will wear. Explain simply that people are wearing masks to keep germs from spreading. Let him see you put on a mask, and then help him put his on and practice wearing it. Let him look in a mirror while wearing his mask.
- Offer ways for your child to calm himself through reading, listening to music, or playing a board game.
- Provide ways for your child to express his feelings through drawing, pounding play dough, or making a paper bag puppet.
- Provide reassurance to your child. Spend extra time with your child. Remind him that God cares for him.
- Read books together. Some books can help children deal with their feelings. Use Sometimes I Am Afraid to read about fears and give reassurance through the Bible thoughts used in the book.
- Give your child opportunities to do something to help others. Your family could make cards for grocery store clerks or your postal carrier. Let your child draw pictures or make a homemade book to give an elderly neighbor. Doing things for others helps a child to see beyond his own needs, and also gives more of a feeling of control to the child.
- Remind your child that God is always with him. Think of Bible verses that give you comfort and say these with your child.
- With preschoolers, use the Bible thought: God is my helper. I will not be afraid (see Heb. 13:6).
- For school-age children, use a Bible verse such as: When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. Psalm 56:3.
- Pray for and with your child. Encourage your child to talk to God in prayer when he is afraid. Guide your child to know that we can go to God in prayer at any time. Pray together and ask God to give your child strength and peace.
As children grow to understand fearful situations, most of their fears will dispel. The fears will diminish as your child gains more control over situations. Give loving support to your child by using God’s Word and prayer to help him know that God is always near. The reassurances you give will help your child to cope with fears during these unsettling days.