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Monsters under the bed, clowns and spiders: how not to turn children's fears into phobias

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Vladislav Sotnikov, director of rehabilitation programs of the Sheredar Charitable Foundation, clinical psychologist, candidate of psychological sciences, specifically for readers of Letidora tells where the fears come from and how to defeat them.

Often parents themselves provoke fears in children. For example, a child is afraid not so much of a phenomenon as the adult's reaction to it. And this situation is not always accompanied by violent emotions and cries of “don’t touch!”, “Step back!” Or open intimidation “See that uncle? Now he will take you. "

The literature describes a case of therapy for a girl with a clearly unmotivated fear of going to school. According to the results of working with my mother, it was found out that they went to school on a route that in their mother’s childhood was associated with severe trauma. And passing each time with her daughter past this place, she instinctively tightly squeezed the child's hand. And the girl perceived this as a signal of danger, so she became afraid of school.

How to understand that a child is tormented by fears

The kid does not always speak openly about his fears - sometimes simply because he still does not know how to talk. It is not necessary to immediately go to a psychologist, because any parent can notice this himself, looking at the behavior of the child.

For example, the English psychologist John Bowlby, known for his work on studying the attachment of a parent and a child, described a system of external signs that he called “indicators of fear”: careful peering, combined with suppression of motor activity, a frightened expression on his face, and finding contact with someone.

How to help your child overcome his fears

1. Show that you understand his fear (at least do not consider it stupid)

The first thing we must do is to show that we respect fear and are ready to help. Statements in the style of “Yes, there is nobody under the bed!”, “Do not be a coward, you are a boy!”, “They told you that this dog does not bite” - the road to nowhere. This is a denial of childhood fear, a story in which we abandon a child alone in a stressful situation. No matter what you think. It is important how your son or daughter feels. Talk to them, often active listening works on its own.

2. Try to find out what really scares him

The noise from the drill, the look of the drill, or the unfriendly face of the doctor? To do this, often enough to talk. It is useful to learn to rate fear on a scale from 0 to 10. This will help the child understand what is happening to him and tune in to work with himself.

3. Explain to the child that he should not hide his fears

He can and should say to others: "I can’t do it, because it scares me!" Especially when it comes to children of preschool and primary school age. Sometimes refusing some activity is perceived by other adults as whims. When fears are called and voiced, an adult (educator, doctor, teacher, trainer) becomes more clear how to behave, and unnecessary irritation goes away. If an adult reacts in the style of "so big, but you're afraid" - run away from such a person as far as possible, at least he is not a professional.

4. Do not arrange surprises that can scare

Predictability is important for children, especially when they have a period of irrational fears. Tell us what is planned, where you are going, what will happen. If there has been an overabundance of emotions (a big and noisy holiday, a long trip, a trip to an amusement park), remember the importance of contact with you: maintain contact with your eyes, hold your hand, just let your back or side lean on you, stroke your head.

5. If the child is afraid of clowns - do not drag him to the circus

Fears can and must be tamed, but it is necessary to divide the task into small steps (as, indeed, in any training, if it comes to children). For example, your son is afraid of dogs. First look at the dogs in the pictures and video, discuss how to understand that the dog is angry (tail position, raised hair on the nape, grin). Then you can wave a familiar dog from afar, talk with the owner, holding the child in his arms at a safe distance, read books and watch movies about dogs that are friends with children. True, it is important that you yourself do not feel fear. Otherwise, the operation will fail.

6. Create a game where fear will be involved (but not in the forehead)

There is such a thing as emotional integration: when one emotion, mixing with another, extinguishes the previous one. In dealing with fears, this feature of the human psyche can help. Good emotions will provide the necessary resource for integrating bad experience into one’s consciousness. For example, if a child is afraid of the dark, you can come up with joint games in the dark: read with a flashlight under the covers, collect luminous toys in a dark room, play with blindfolds. The main thing is to move carefully, your task is to give a positive experience.

7. Invent ways of protection (including monsters)

Arm your son or daughter: give a magic flashlight that will lie under the pillow and drive away bedside monsters or a spray bottle with anti-dragon liquid. You can give an invisible magic suit. Ask your son to relax, close his eyes and imagine that when you press the “button” on your head, an impenetrable protective screen will form around him. Discuss in detail what size, color, whether it is possible to increase and decrease it. What is he working against? Against monsters and bad and insulting words? Such a screen will help the child when he comes to a new team, for example. Recall that it is easiest to call up this screen if the legs firmly feel the floor and the body the back of the chair.

8. Draw fear and discuss it

The worst thing is ignorance. Why does a bedside monster come? What is he, what can he do, can a child show him? When we play something (even fear), we begin to manage the situation. For example, a daughter in elementary school is frightened by the teacher’s threat to divert to the principal or a remark in the diary. Ask what will happen if this happens. The daughter will behave badly, she will be taken to the director, and then her mother will be called. In the end, all roads will lead exactly to the parent, who will always protect - from the monster under the bed, and from the director.

9. Teach simple exercises how to calm down at a critical moment

Find out exactly where the fear lives inside the child, and teach simple breathing exercises to help calm down. For example, to visualize their lungs, like balloons, which are deflated and inflated when inhaling and exhaling. You can try the practice of mindfulness (many exercises on the Internet).

10. Talk about everything in the world

How the sewage system works, why people are afraid of spiders, who lives in our closet, what will happen in the doctor’s office, why we die, how the sound of turbines in an airplane changes during landing and take-off, why teachers talk in such a tone, why people tease, what is verbal aggression and much, much more. If you call fear - it ceases to be so terrible.

If the child is not afraid of anything at all - here it is worth thinking about the help of a specialist. The complete absence of fears may indicate a violation of attachment, sensitivity, or even some kind of psychiatric illness.

Different types of fears do not correspond to age norms, do not replace each other, but simply are added and saved for some time. If you don’t react at all or do it wrong, everything can turn into a phobia - an uncontrolled fear that manifests itself in the same situations.

Fear is the basic emotion of man. It is important to decide who controls whom: fear of a person or a person uses fear to adapt and learn.

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