Fears, worries and anxieties are part of being human. These emotions tell us something about our situation. From there, we make decisions about what actions to take.
Children go through stages of fears in childhood such as wariness of strangers, fears of the dark and intruders, and worry that a parent will forget to pick them up. They might cry, seem more irritable, wake up in the night, refuse to do something or meltdown after school. When people feel anxious, they tend to think the risk is greater than what it is and think they won’t be able to cope with it.
This weekly column about parenting issues is written by local early childhood experts. It publishes on Mondays in the Steamboat Today. Read more columns here.
On the one hand, some anxiety can be helpful. It can motivate us to work hard, give our best in a competition or avoid a dangerous situation. Sometimes having the thought, “What will people think?” helps us make good choices.
However, feeling anxious is not helpful when we avoid pursuing things that we value, help us grow or enjoy.
Let’s say your child has a dream of being an artist. It is really important to him, and he really values other people’s art. But the thought, “What will people think of my art?” gets in the way of producing any art. We can’t wait until everyone loves our art to get started on the project that is important to us.
Current day psychology reinforces the notion that to feel discomfort is to be human. If we wait until we feel 100 percent certain, relaxed or sure of something, we’ll be waiting a long time. To manage fears, worries and anxieties is to face them head on and use coping skills.
It’s important for children to learn that experiencing some worry is a part of life and they can use strategies to help them move forward.
• Look for these emotions by listening to what your child says and reading facial expressions
• Acknowledge your child’s feelings by taking a guess. “I wonder if you are feeling ... ?” “You’re feeling butterflies in your stomach. I wonder if you’re nervous about something?”
• Avoid saying, “Don’t worry about it!” or “It will be fine!”
• Provide physical comfort, coach him or her to calm his or her body by breathing with them.
• Help your child consider other possible outcomes for the situation.
• A 4 year-old once said to me, “You’re not the boss of me.” Kids can say this to their worried thoughts.
Of course, some children experience worries for a long time and to such a degree that it’s getting in the way of their success. Consulting a school, medical or mental health professional in these instances can be helpful.
Ask your local librarian or bookstore for children’s books that talk about fears, worries and anxieties. Children are comforted when they read about other kids who feel just like them.
Barbara Gueldner, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Steamboat Springs. She is a member of First Impressions, Routt County’s Early Childhood Council. Read her blog at www.successfulkidstoday.com.