As coParents, we all dream of our child growing to become confident and sure of themselves in the world.
It is best to teach a child that it is normal to feel fear. coParents can teach the child that if it is safe to move forward, they are capable on their own to overcome doubts and conquer with confidence. When the time comes for them to face the world on their own, they will have the skills and capability.
Respect Your Child’s Fears
Children are generally not helped when parents tell them to stop being afraid of something. What is helpful to most children is an approach in which you acknowledge their fears and at the same time let them know that you will help them overcome these fears.
Model Brave Behavior
Children look to others for guidance on how to respond in unfamiliar situations. They usually watch for cues from their parents and use these cues to help determine if the situation is safe or not. If the parent’s response is fearful or anxious, the child’s response is also likely to be fearful or anxious.
Although it is important for parents to model appropriate cautionary and safety behaviors when appropriate, it is important for parents to act as confident and brave role models as well. If a parent is overly anxious and over-protective, this anxiety can be easily communicated to a child with the accompanying message that the world is too dangerous. As well, the child also receives the message that he is incapable.
Parents need to acknowledge and understand their own anxieties and make an effort to contain them when appropriate in the presence of their children. Sometimes, parents need to act brave even if they don’t feel brave. An important and helpful message for an anxious child to receive from a parent is that the parent has confidence both in the child and in the situation.
Encourage Brave Behavior
While children are generally not helped when parents demand that they face their fears all at once, they are helped when parents can gently encourage them to approach feared situations. This is because exposure to feared situations leads to desensitization and reduction of the fear and anxiety.
However, approaching feared situations can be difficult for anxious children since they would rather avoid them. One way of helping a child approach a feared situation is to go about it in small steps so that each step is achievable and gradually becomes a little more difficult. Another important strategy for parents is to reward a child for trying to approach a feared situation. A child will also find it helpful to be reminded that the fear will get smaller over time. In addition, children can be reminded of fears and difficult situations that they have overcome in the past.
Teach Problem-Solving Strategies
Help your child with their worries and problems by teaching them how to problem-solve by defining the problem, brainstorming all possible solutions and their consequences, and choosing the best solution.
Be aware, however, not to jump in too early to help “fix” your child’s problems. Remember to give your child lots of time to express his negative feelings around worries and problems first where you are just listening and acknowledging feelings before helping him to figure out a solution.
Challenge Unhelpful Thoughts to Teach Confidence
Help your child to understand that the negative and pessimistic things she says to herself about herself are not helpful and can influence how she feels and behaves. For example, thinking (or saying), “I’m so hopeless, I’ll never do it,” can make her feel angry, hopeless, sad and ultimately even more anxious.
By changing the unhelpful thoughts with more helpful and positive thoughts, for example by saying or thinking, “If I keep practicing, I’ll get better,” or “Even if I make a mistake, I can learn and do better the next time,” your child’s anxiety levels will be reduced.
Again, remember to allow your child lots of time to express her negative thoughts around worries and fears first before helping her to figure out more helpful ways of thinking about the situation.
This story and more on children’s feelings is found here on this page.
Author Kathy Eugster, MA, RCC, CPT-S, is a Registered Clinical Counsellor and a Certified Play Therapist – Supervisor. For the past 16 years she has run a private counselling practice seeing children three to twelve years old and their parents for a variety of emotional and behavioral problems, including issues related to past trauma. Kathy was the recipient of the 2013 Monica Herbert Award for contributing to the field of play therapy in Canada. She serves on the Board of Directors for the Canadian Association for Child and Play Therapy. Kathy is the author of numerous articles on child and parent relationships which are available on her website. She publishes an on-line newsletter, Parent-Child Connections, on a regular basis. http://www.kathyeugster.com