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“Mommy, I’m Scared”

Sarah Chana Radcliffe M. Ed., C. Psych

Whether your children are worried about big things (terrorist attacks) or little things (mice), here are strategies to help them face their fears and cope when they’re in anxiety-producing situations.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Our children are afraid. They’re scared of new places and experiences. They’re afraid of lightning, dogs, and the dark. Kids fear tests and terrorism, reptiles and rejection — in fact, they’re afraid of a lot of the same things that we’re afraid of. Just like us, they feel anxious, worried, and sometimes panicked. Because children are younger and lack life experience, they tend to feel fear more frequently than adults do. That’s where parents are supposed to step in: Our job is to equip them with a fear-busting tool kit. Unfortunately, many parents themselves don’t know how to manage fears — they either avoid situations that trigger anxious feelings (“I don’t fly…”), take powerful anxiety-quelling medications, or simply live in a constant state of anxiety and emotional unrest. The result: Their children grow up without developing techniques to face and eliminate fears and worries. A recent national study of the mental health of university students in the United States showed that 54 percent suffered from overwhelming anxiety. Unfortunately, youths who lack the ability to bring their anxiety under control often turn to unhealthy “self-help” strategies (think drugs, alcohol, cutting, eating disorders, and habit disorders) and/or avoidance (withdrawing from whatever provokes anxiety). Younger kids with overwhelming fears or worries usually don’t discover relief beyond temper tantrums, which enable them to avoid scary situations. Their distressed mental state, however, impacts their physical health: as a result of internalizing their emotions, they often suffer from chronic headaches, stomachaches, rashes, or other symptoms. How can we help our children — and ourselves — face fear? The first step is understanding what exactly anxiety is, and what this powerful emotion does to our bodies. 

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