Monsters Under the Bed: Understanding Kid Fears

Big Kid Fears

Older children realize that bad things do happen sometimes, says Dr. Hagar. What they don't yet understand is the probability of a really scary event rocking their world: a stranger climbing into their bedroom window at night, a hurricane, or gun violence in schools. But because they often hear about these things from their friends or see them on the news, they don't get a sense of perspective.

Soothing Strategies

  • Teach coping skills. Your child is old enough to learn relaxation techniques that will manage his physical responses to fear, like a pounding heart or churning stomach, says Dr. Garber. Encourage him to take long, slow breaths, and come up with a soothing mantra such as, "I'm safe in my bed. All the doors and windows are locked."
  • Avoid media overexposure. Because children's worldview is limited, they don't know how often hurricanes hit or how many kidnappers exist. (And they pick up on more than you think when they overhear you listening to the radio or a TV program.) Even some kids' shows and video games can be too intense.
  • Do talk about death. It's not unusual for kids this age to worry about when you'll die. If your child brings it up, reassure her that you intend to live a long life; you can even talk about all the good habits you follow that help keep you healthy, says child psychologist Vicki Panaccione, PhD, of the Better Parenting Institute, in Melbourne, Florida. Since your child's underlying fear is likely, "What will happen to me if my parents die?" you might tell her who would take care of her.
  • Explain probability. When a scary event hits the news -- a terrorist attack or a natural disaster -- don't avoid talking about it, says Raymond Crowel, PsyD, former vice president of Mental Health America. Explain that these tragedies rarely occur but that even if something bad happened, you, his school, and the community have plans in place to keep everyone safe.

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