‘It is hard to be brave, when you’re only a Very Small Animal.’– Piglet, Winnie the Pooh

A colleague of mine sent me an email with the above title. As a parent and someone working with parents, my curiosity got the better of me and I skipped all other mail and immediately opened it. I would bet that before reading this (and thank you for doing so) a lot of you scanned straight down to have a look at the list. We look to confirm what we know or have experienced. We look to see what we have not, thankfully, had to work through. Either way, we feel better because we know that we are not alone, they are not unique and we are lucky in so many other ways.

The list, I discovered, was taken from a website called fear of stuff and a look through it confirms that we can be afraid of almost anything and a lot of the time (most in fact) it is not rational.

Like so many other challenges in life, it is not what happens or the fear itself that determines whether the experience ultimately is a positive or negative learning experience. It is how we handle it. As parents we can do a lot to help them.

First some important facts…..

1. Fears are a natural part of growing up.
Many children experience fears around the unfamiliar and these will vary depending on their age and stage of development and also their own temperament/personality.
When they are younger it may be separation, strangers, loud noises.
Slightly older it may be the dark, the bath or the doctors.
Older still, it can be of monsters, death, animals.
Older still, new schools, being left out of the group, exams, etc…

2.Fears may also arise from an experience (rational or irrational)
Very young children see the water swirling down the plughole and may be afraid they will go down too! They may have got soap in their eyes and are afraid it will happen again.
A parent dies and they are worried about something happening to the other parent.
They fear monsters under the bed. They fear not fitting in.

3. Fear goes away gradually
If you talk to them about their fears or show them why or how it might not be true (FEAR = False Evidence Appearing Real) that in itself will not automatically mean they will grasp what you are saying or no longer be afraid. It is usually a process over time of help and support as they build their confidence around that area and experience the opposite of what they fear.

4. Success breeds success
Teaching them to deal with their fears will enable them to approach new situations with less anxiety and the knowledge that they have been successful around a different fear in the past.

Life happens. Sometimes their fears may manifest (death or divorce for example). At that point it is important to focus on helping them deal with it through communication and love and being 100% present for them. They may have to handle it but they then do it with the love and support of a parent as opposed to without it (because we are so caught up in our own feelings) or at a later stage is life when other things happen and you are not as directly involved in their life and they have to handle it on their own.

Because of the vast range of fears, phobias and different personality styles (child and parent) it would be impossible to cover all here.
Working one to one with parents I have helped them to coach themselves and/or their children through in a way that builds confidence and esteem. Below are some of the key elements that worked.

Check your own response
Are you frustrated because of the practical implications of their fear?
Bath or bed time is protracted, they wont go asleep on their own or having to get their ‘shots’.
If there has been a death or separation, are your own worries about the impact on them influencing how you handle it or how available you are for them?
If you are afraid of dogs, could that be passing over to them?
Manage your expectations. Are you putting a time frame to ‘dealing’ with this that might be unrealistic.
You may not have direct control over them and their fear but you have total control over yourself (albeit that sometimes we may not think so).

Reframe it as an Opportunity
It is not what happens but how we respond to something that determines the outcome we have. If we reframe it as an opportunity to get to know them and their unique personality better, we will come to the same situation with a different approach.
We can see it as an opportunity to help them work through a challenge with our help and support which will be of value to them later in life when they may not have or look for it.
It is an opportunity to strengthen the relationship.

Acknowledge and Validate their Fear
Don’t just dismiss it as ‘sure there is nothing to worry about’.
Do tell them that you can see that they are afraid or scared and that you are there to help and support them.
Let them know that you take them seriously.

Get Creative
So many times we look to someone else to tell us what would work?
Look within, what do you think would work for your child and in your situation?
If they are afraid of dogs it is not always an option to get a puppy so they can get used to being around one. But it may be possible to visit the cat and dogs home, visit a friend who has a child friendly mutt or watch a film with a real life dog as it’s hero.
If they are afraid of the bath, put in a smaller baby bath, get in with them, pretend the shower is a waterfall, get bubbles to blow in the bath, get some new toys or bubble bath, use a basin to wash (now there is a thing!!), bring them swimming……. get creative around the solution rather than focusing on the problem!

Teach them Coping Strategies
This will be, of course, age appropriate.

– Breathing techniques (breath in slowly for 4, hold, and out for 4)
‘Imagine your tummy is a balloon and you are filling it up with air.’
Doing this distracts them from the fearful thoughts and has a real physical calming effect

– Visualisaion.
– Superhero. What would x (superman for example if that is their hero) say? What would Dora the explorer do?
– EFT/Tapping for children
– Getting them to say ‘I can do this’….’I am ok’….
– Get them to rate it on a scale of 1 – 10 or if they are younger ‘I am full up to my knees’ (a bit) or ‘I am full up to my neck’ (really fearful).

Rating it like this is an indication of how much they are feeling and also if some of the techniques above are used it may reduce and so there is a measurement for them and you to see that it is not as bad as it was or could be.

And Finally……

So what were those top 10??

10. Public Speaking
9. Animals
8. Monsters and Ghosts
7. Death
6. Being alone in the dark
5. Doctor
4. War
3. Personal Danger
2. Loss of a Parent
1. Divorce

I would love to hear from you. If you have any feedback or would like to avail of one to one parent coaching, I can be contacted at 087 2232937 or marian@theparentcoach.ie
Until next time…