Coping with Your Child’s Fears
Learning Patience When Your Child is Scare
article by Cindy G. Foust
I am not quite sure how to start this month’s column, because in doing so I will be confessing a deep dark secret. Yes, once they publish March’s magazine, it will be too late to take it back. It will be out there. For everyone to see. Forever more. The end. But, I am going to throw caution to the wind and simply risk being stared at by everyone I see at the grocery store…the bank…or the ballpark.
So, what’s my big confession? I am still a “little” scared of the dark. What? I’m nearly half a century old, and I’m scared of the the dark? I mean, some people my age are scared of heights or spiders or dying, but scared of the dark they most probably are not.
My readers know and trust that I am going to do my due diligence with my research, so let me define my phobia as being nyctophobia which is having a severe fear of the dark (real phobias, by the way, are one of the top reasons children are referred to mental health professionals). I don’t really like labels, so I’m not going to classify myself as such…I mean, just because I booby-trap (there’s a word from the great Scooby-Doo) my house and sleep with the lights on when Scott is out of town, does not make me a nycto-anything!
The reality is, however, I am Chicken Little…better known to my close family and friends as Cindy Foust Scaredy Cat (that kind of sounds like a children’s book). Even with a security system, I still feel the need to drag furniture in front of the door…or Scott’s golf clubs…or a park bench (said rather sheepishly).
No, really. I’m afraid this phobia can be traced back to those roots I fondly and frequently write about on Ollie Caples Road with the inception of the VCR (also known as video cassette recorder). Yes, before we could watch television and movies from our phones, this writer experienced the dawn of the video generation first hand. For crying out loud, my parents bought our first VCR at Curtis Mathes for a whopping $800! You can get a DVD player at the local retail giant for $19.99 during any holiday sale extravaganza. But, as usual, I digress.
Some of those first VCR movies were real winners, and sadly, included such horror flicks as Freddy Krueger, Halloween and Happy Birthday to Me…each one a pure scream jubilee. I really believe my exposure to such horror nonsense perpetuated my otherwise, inexplicable delirium. I have actually given a lot of thought to these anxious moments I continue to experience, primarily because I am a mother, and well, my children have also had their own phobias.
Thankfully, both have outgrown their respective anxieties and fears…but for several years, my daughter was a hostage in our home if there was a dog in a ten-foot radius. Anyone feel my family’s pain? I have literally watched my little girl get airborn trying to escape what she perceived as a life-threatening situation when someone’s Yorkie (yes, a dog that can fit in the palm of your hand) was inadvertently let out of the kennel. I think you can ask anyone close to my family, her fear of dogs was real and very difficult to handle in some situations. It was also very hard to watch my little girl tremble, shake and scream at the very sight of a dog. She has literally locked herself in the car, so as to protect herself from Beowulf (also known as “Baylor,”a 5-pound Yorkie Poo).
Speaking of Beowulf, you might be asking if my daughter has ever been bitten by a dog or had some well founded basis for her angst, and the answer is no. Until she overcame her fear of dogs, (some 9 years after her birth), we never even owned one. However, if you ever witnessed one of her “dog meltdowns” you would think her leg had been ripped off at the hip by Beowulf. Inexplicable, but genuine.
As a person who has been blessed with many good friends that I enjoy co-parenting with, I have also watched other children that I love experience other types of fears or phobias. Each one as real as my little girl’s. Some of those children shared my fear of the dark, some were scared of monsters, some were scared of shots (ditto), some were scared of costumes, some simply had separation anxiety from a parent (I highly doubt my son reads my column, but on the outside chance he does, I wish he would get another case of separation anxiety and stay home with his mother once in a while).
Whatever a child’s fear or phobia is (and there is a difference), most are very legitimate and very normal. Trust me, some of the more stressful experiences we had with our daughter made me feel like I was letting her down as a parent. I could fix most everything in her life; why couldn’t I help her arrest these fears and be a normal, (dog-loving) little girl? I even consulted her pediatrician, and he assured me that it was a normal fear and she would outgrow it (Dr. Rosales, if you tell me it’s Easter, I will dye my eggs.)
In fact, he said, unless it hinders her ability to function in her everyday life, she, just like other children, would eventually outgrow her fears. Be patient, he said…easier to say than do I assure you, because in our case, most everyone we know in the entire universe has a dog. So visiting with family or friends, playing at the park or her being able to visit at her friend’s house made life very stressful.
In writing this month’s column, I sought out the help of a child psychologist, as well as did my ritual reading of what the experts say. Many agree that the first step in helping your child overcome their anxieties, is recognizing that your child’s fear is real. Also, never belittle your child’s fear, as if you can push them into overcoming their distress.
Next, provide support and loving care as your child approaches a feared object of situation, and do your best not to avoid the pending crisis. If you avoid the dog or the clown or Santa Claus at the mall, it will reinforce that they should be averted.
Finally, teach your child some coping techniques, such as relaxation and reciting positive self-statements that reassures them they can overcome this fear. No, sorry, this is the finale, and this comes from my family’s struggle, patience with your child is the key…and it has to come from everyone that lives under your roof.
I think it would have been much harder for my daughter to conquer her fears if her brother had made fun of her. As parents, if any of you are suffering (and in some cases, that’s the only way to put it) from some of these same “symptoms,” trust me when I say that the day will come when your child’s dance teacher will send you a picture of your little girl embracing the studio pet…which happens to be a slightly chubby, very furry, golden doodle…no, not embracing, actually lying on top of the dog and smiling.
The relief, the joy that you feel as a parent will take your breath, and you realize that you won’t have to be carrying your daughter around on your shoulders when she’s 21 if a dog is around.
I hope this month’s column will give parents reading it a little thread of support if they, too, are going through similar circumstances at home. Also, I will be perfectly willing to participate in a support group setting if anyone needs it. We quote frequently in my parent group that “it takes a village” to get these kids raised, and even if we aren’t family and child therapists, we are parents, and oftentimes, personal experience goes a long way in encouraging and supporting our friends.