Helping Children Overcome Fear of the Unfamiliar


Some kids are adventurous, jumping right in to new situations with abandon. Other kids are cautious and first want to know just what they’re getting themselves into. You can see this behavior by observing toddlers on the playground. Some climb up the slide and can’t wait to go down, while other kids prefer to watch the action first before deciding whether to partake. These cautious kids sometimes exhibit a fear of the unfamiliar. Recognize this in your child and learn how to encourage her.

About Fears

Being afraid of the unfamiliar isn’t all bad because this fear helps your child behave safely. For example, a child afraid of busy streets is less likely to run into one. Babies exhibit fear of strangers by hiding or clinging to you when someone unfamiliar approaches. A toddler may become anxious when you leave him at daycare. Your older child may be fearful of not fitting in with a social group or of getting bad grades. These are all fears of the unfamiliar and are normal to a certain extent. But, fear taken to extremes is not so healthy and can negatively affect your child’s sense of well-being, according to KidsHealth. A child who is afraid of the unfamiliar may avoid situations and fail to learn acceptable behaviors. This can lead to isolation.

Talking it Through

Sometimes, just talking to your child can help alleviate fears. But, don’t belittle the fears or tell your child she is being ridiculous. That won’t help. If nothing else, it is always helpful to be sympathetic to the problem. Your child may grow out of her fears on her own. However, if the fears persist and worsen, they can turn into phobias, which are difficult for your child and for you to tolerate. If your child’s fear of the unfamiliar seems out of proportion or greater than most other kids’ reactions, seek help from a counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist. If you don’t get help, the phobia is likely to continue.

Making a List

Help your child make a list of what scares him. For each item, list what is scary in least-to-worst order. For example, if your child is afraid to try out for a baseball league, his list might start with his not being able to catch a fly ball. The list works its way to the worst fear, which could be being hit in the face by the ball or being the worst one on the team. Gradually, have your son try out his fears. Take him out and play catch with him. Do this until he feels comfortable catching the ball. Work up to having him join a pick-up game with some kids and then, eventually, to trying out for the team.

Seeing a Therapist

A therapist could work with a child who fears the unfamiliar by showing her breathing techniques she can use to help alleviate the anxiety. Other relaxation techniques are muscle relaxation and soothing self-talk. The goal is to get the child bold enough to face her fears.

What Not to Do

Don’t force your child into situations when he is still fearful. This shock method rarely works. Don’t lie to your child by only painting a rosy picture. Be honest. For example, your child might be hit in the face with a baseball when he plays. It’s better to talk about the possibility, demonstrate how he can protect himself and telling him that being hit in the face is not the norm. Don’t transmit your fears to your child. You may be projecting your worries onto him. Kids pick up on those things.



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