Sometimes it's hard as mamas to watch our kids miss out on fun experiences because they're scared. Sometimes it's hard when your daily routines get thrown off because your babe is terrified of the car wash or going to the bathroom in a public place.
It can be really hard to know how to help them face their fears without forcing them into situations and without making the problem worse.
Whether your children are dealing with a small scare or a big terror, hopefully these tips will help you teach them how to overcome them all in a happy healthy way!
When you are able to recognize that your little one has a fear, the best way to work on it is to normalize it by exposing them to it in a safe way. There's a couple ways you can do this: say, for example, your child has a fear of fireworks and its been putting a wrench in your yearly plans for the 4th. You can help her get used to loud noises by sitting down together and banging on some pots and pans. It's super loud. Super in your face, but a safe way to get them used to the experience. You can also try getting them used to the experience the opposite way by cancelling out the noise with some earmuffs and just letting them see the fireworks without the racket. Anything to help dampen the full experience will help them get more comfortable with it!
An example of this is what we used to help our son feel comfortable jumping into pools. He was doing great during his swim lessons once he was actually in the pool, but jumping in scared him like crazy. So at home, we set our air mattress in our family room, and let him practice jumping off the couch onto the air mattress over and over and over until he felt comfortable with it and knew he could do it without hurting himself. Then, we took him to the pool as a family and worked with him there until he felt safe. By the end of the summer, he was comfortable enough, and excited, to do it on his own.
Make it Relatable
This helps my kids a lot because they are both very visual learners, and like to mimic things that they read in books or watch on TV/movies. In my experience, if you pump them full of materials that will help them see that people they watch or read about have fears too, then they'll understand that they can do it just like so-and-so did. These days, you can find a book to help your child learn about almost anything and that means that any time your child is afraid of something, you can tell them a story about how a character they love went through the same thing.
A quick example, that I used recently, was when we were potty training our son. As far as kids go, he was a pretty easy trainee (in hindsight), but we had about a month or two where I thought there was no way we were going to go get through it. He was so scared to go #2 on the toilet. I went to the library and found every book they had on little friends using the big boy potty, saved every YT video that had something to do with potty training, and we spent about a week going through all of them and talking about how they handled it. Did it solve the problem overnight? Nope. But did it make it easier for him to relate his situation to? Totally. We still use songs or talk and say how he's just like this character because he's going potty. It's a huge help for visual learners!
Give it Time
Something that I think all mamas should keep in mind is that sometimes their fears are totally dependent on their age. For some kids, it's a phase that they will grow out of with little to no effort on your part. Separation anxiety is a great example of this. Most kids go through a period where they freak out when mom or dad leave, but they grow out of it after a few months. When it comes to kids who have had lasting fears about the same thing, be patient and give it time when you've started to address the fear.
I always need to remind myself that we are teaching our children new life skills. Things they have never done before and have never learned to handle. It's tough for them to learn coping mechanisms and healthy tools to handle their emotions, and those skills take time to learn. So work on it one day at a time, but be consistent! Make sure that your kids have a safe, reliable place (ie you) to come to when they need to express themselves, and their fears tend to fade much more quickly and with fewer relapses.
Try it With a Friend
If your kids are super social (mine totally are), then doing something with a friend is one of the quickest ways to get them out of their comfort zone and help them conquer their fears. I think this works best with a friend that your child has spent a good amount of time with, has built a relationship with, and has already felt comfortable doing things in a safe environment (like your home, or at school). But getting them to try something that they're scared of by having their friend there to help show them how to do it, or that it's fun and not scary, is a great way to help them learn through interacting with others.
Just this week, my son went to a birthday party for a little girl in his preschool class. They had a bouncy house, which most kids would be absolutely ecstatic about, but my little guy has been perpetually terrified of bouncy houses ever since he was tiny. Not sure what it is, but he can't stand them and cries every time we tried to get him into one. When we got to the party, I could tell he was hesitant, but he saw all of his school friends in there, and I knew that he was thinking about going in. He kept looking back at me for support, and I told him that he could totally handle it and have fun, but he didn't have to go in if he didn't want to. Suddenly a sweet girl from his class came up and said, "I'll help you, Hudson!" and pulled him through the little flap opening. It was all it took. She sat there with him while he got used to it, and then all of a sudden he was loving it. I had to basically drag him out of there at the end of the party. One sweet little friend was all it took to help him get over that fear! Amazing.