Welcome back to my third article in the series, How to Raise a Peaceful Child in a Violent World. After giving you the basics to a life of empathy, connection, compassion, and acceptance in the first article and the books that will encourage your child to change the world through peace in the second article, today we are talking about fear and anxiety in children, feelings that could result in the opposite of peace unless you know what to do with them.
Fear and anxiety are threads that weave in and out of our journey from childhood to adulthood. As parents, guiding our children through these emotions becomes crucial to nurturing their ability to seek peaceful resolutions, find their way back to calm, and be positive and beneficial individuals able to heal our society.
In this article, I’ll explore strategies to help you and your child navigate fear and anxiety in our complex world through positive parenting and positive communication.
Understanding Children’s Fears
Children, like adults, grapple with fears ranging from the dark unknown to the actual uncertainties of the world around them. Recognizing that these fears are a normal part of childhood development is essential. When I say normal, I mean that trying to change or make these fears disappear is not what we want to do. On the contrary, we want to help our children face them and get to know and understand them, know where they are coming from and what they are trying to protect. Because that is the role of fear – protecting us.
Creating a safe space for expression is the first step in helping them navigate these emotions.
Creating a Safe Space for Expression
Encourage open communication where your child feels safe expressing their fears. Actively listen without judgment and validate their emotions. By acknowledging their feelings, you create a foundation for trust and understanding.
Notice that your child’s fears might sound silly or unrealistic to you. You may feel the urge to say something like “Oh, that’s nonsense,” or “Common, that would never happen,” or “Ghosts just don’t exist!” but your opinion of your child’s fear is irrelevant because to your child – their fear is very much real.
Empowering Through Knowledge
Remember, we mostly fear the unknown, and children experience a whole lot of unknowns. In my book, Jacky & Raff and the Language of YES, Raff tells Jacky, “Most of the things we fear aren’t real,” and then lets Jacky talk through his fears until the knowledge of safety comes from within so that Jacky is not taught safely, but learns it on his own, and the difference is immense.
Providing age-appropriate information about the world can empower children and alleviate unfounded fears. Discussing current events in a way that they can understand helps contextualize the world around them. Give your children information without teaching them what it means; instead – ask them what it means for them, so that the answer comes from within.
Mindfulness Techniques for Kids
Introduce age-appropriate mindfulness exercises to help children manage anxious thoughts. Simple activities like deep breathing or short meditation sessions can provide them with tools to stay present and calm.
Encouraging Healthy Coping Mechanisms
Teach your child healthy coping mechanisms such as drawing and journaling. These activities serve as positive outlets for expressing emotions and building resilience. When we draw and write our fears, we get to know them, give them faces and names, and turn them into friends rather than enemies.
Imagine your child fears monsters in the dark, after painting them, they’re nothing more but smears of paint on a paper. Your child can then paint a smiling face on them, give them names, and invent stories about them. Later that night, when they go to sleep, encourage them to take their new monster-friend to bed with them, and see how they fear no longer. And you can do this with any fear your child encounters.
Establishing Consistent Routines
Predictable routines contribute to a sense of security. Create calming bedtime rituals to ease anxiety before sleep. Consistency in daily activities provides a reassuring structure for children, where they know what is about to happen and don’t need to question reality. Allow your children to actively participate in creating these routines to empower them to have a sense of autonomy and control over their life experiences.
Modeling Calm Behavior
Children often mirror the behavior of their parents. Model calmness and effective coping strategies to show them how to navigate challenging emotions with grace to themselves and to the world.
I’ll never forget the first time my son saw me bravely dealing with a cockroach. When I say bravely, I mean screaming and running around the house like a frightened mouse chased by a cat; it was both funny and sad at the same time. Ilay was then around three or so, and somewhere during my performance, I noticed his terrified face and body language, and I understood how it all must have looked and felt to him. Seeing his mother, his source of safety and security, so petrified, must have shaken the ground he stood on. I quickly collected myself, took a few deep breaths, and reminded myself disgusting is not scary. It’s just disgusting.
I then used this experience to share that it’s okay to get scared occasionally and that when we stop to think about it and look our fears in the eye, we’ll see that we can easily get over them. Then I got a shoe and did what had to be done minus the performance.
Connecting with Nature
Nature has a soothing effect on the mind. Encourage outdoor activities that promote a sense of peace and connection. Whether it’s a nature walk or simply playing in the backyard, time outdoors is therapeutic. Various research shows that children who spend more time outdoors experience less fear and less anxiety and develop more calm and collected internal mechanisms.
Building Resilience Through Positive Reinforcement
Acknowledge and celebrate your child’s bravery in facing fears. Positive reinforcement builds resilience and reinforces the idea that they can overcome challenges. Don’t tell them that they were brave; ask them, “did you feel brave?”, “How did you feel overcoming your fear of x?”, “What does your ability to do so teach you about yourself?”
Encourage them to talk and listen to themselves because that’s where true knowledge comes from.
Seeking Professional Support
This is an essential section because sometimes fear and anxiety can take over, and if that happens, most parents won’t be able to give their children the tools that they need to overcome this experience.
Be attuned to signs that indicate it’s time to seek support from counselors or mental health professionals. When fears and anxieties hit daily, their subjects are ever-changing and evolving, and you can no longer predict where the next fear will come from, it might be time to seek professional support.
Navigating fear and anxiety in children requires a combination of empathy, understanding, and practical strategies. As parents, you serve as anchors in your child’s life, providing a sense of security and peace. Remember, it’s an ongoing journey, and your consistent support will nurture the peaceful and calm hearts of the ones you love most.
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