A little baby is shy of strangers. A toddler is afraid of the dark and bugs while school-age children can worry about their own health and the well-being of their loved ones. A teenager may be afraid of being left out of the group of friends.

Children of different ages are afraid of different things. Fears are a normal part of life and the child’s normal development. Fears also have a protective role for human beings. A fearless state is not the goal, but there are many things we can do to help children to cope with the fears.  The most efficient way of overcoming a fear is to face it in baby steps with a supporting adult. It is common that parents think that talking about fears will make them stronger. However, this is not true. Instead dealing with fears together slowly builds the child’s ability to face them.

A child who fears a dog should not be forced to face the dog. A scared child needs the support from an adult without pressure. Reducing dog fears can be started by looking at pictures of different dogs with your child. Gradually, one can move on to watching a familiar and peaceful dog from a safe distance with an adult. The most important thing to keep in mind when reducing a fear is to face it with baby steps in a safe environment. Overcoming the fear must proceed on the child’s terms. The child must not be pressured.

When a child, who is afraid of dark, wakes up at night, the parent’s job is to comfort the child and try to calm him/her down so that they can continue to sleep. During the daytime, you can talk to your child about nightmares and explore the dark together to make it less scary. If your child is afraid of something more concrete, such as a vaccination or the dentist, the parent should honestly tell the child what will happen at the clinic or at doctor’s visit.

It is important to express that there is nothing wrong with the feeling of fear. It is good to tell the child that he or she is allowed to be afraid and that the parent will be there to support the child. You should also encourage your child to notice his or her small steps in overcoming the fear.

In preventing nightmares and fears, it is important to pay attention to what your child is watching and playing. If your child is sensitive, you might want to cut down on media that seems to upset them. Remember that most often, the fears of children are not due to what the parents have done or failed to do, allowed or denied. Many fears are closely linked to certain periods of development and will eventually go away on their own.

Usually, the scared child will have sufficient understanding and support from the parent. Sometimes the fears may be due to a so-called fear-related disorders characterised by persistent, intense fear, that unreasonably disturbs the child’s life. It is also possible that sometimes a child may have to face something unusually difficult and scary in his life. In these cases, it may be necessary to seek professional help.

Vilhelmiina Välimäki is a Finnish psychologist, who moved to Malta 2018 and has been slowly but surely adjusting to the Maltese environment and culture. She works at Willingness as a Clinical Psychologist and she is specialised in offering support to individuals from different age groups, couples and families.  You can contact her on vilhelmiina@willingness.com.mt or 9944 9910.