“Sometimes I’m scared of monsters and ghosts. I’m not scared when I see that they aren’t real.”
Excerpt from the I’m Not Scared Book by Todd Parr
Belle, our chocolate Labradoodle, developed a fear. We own a dog that is terrified of going on walks! I should clarify that this fear is restricted to our neighborhood. My sister watched Belle for a few days in the summer at her house and she enjoyed walking. For a period of time, she would not even leave my yard. Sometimes, Belle will walk around our circle, but then stops every time I try to walk up the street. She becomes a statue and I can’t get my scared dog to move an inch! Hopefully, one day, Belle will become comfortable walking around our neighborhood again. At the moment; however, we are limited to our short circle walks.
I have my own share of fears. Spiders and heights. My fear of heights was finally conquered at the age of 29 when I went skydiving with two best friends. Needless to say, you probably will never see me skydiving again! The conversation of “fears” is a common topic with children. Monsters, the dark, and ghosts often rank high on the list. Nightmares are typical in young children. We recently covered the topic of fears in our grief support group for children ages 7 to 9. A parent or teacher may notice fears develop in children who are grieving. For example, a child who experienced a father’s death may now fear the death of his or her mother.
Six ways to help children who are experiencing fears:
1. Decorate a plain pillowcase with fabric markers. We recently used this activity two weeks ago in our group. The kids loved it! They were excited to go to sleep that night! Some children drew relaxing pictures. (The beach, clouds, stars.) Other children drew pictures of things/people who help them to feel happy. (Puppies, rainbows, family members.)
2. Encourage your child to discuss the nightmare. Don’t just say, “It was just a dream….forget about it.” Instead say, “Tell me about your dream. Were there any people or animals in it? How did you feel in your dream?” Documenting the details in the nightmare may reveal a pattern that is associated with the loss.
3. Turn “scary” into “funny.” The kids in our group had fun with this one during the pillowcase activity. They drew pictures of their nightmares by adding funny details. A few had watched the Harry Potter movies and recalled a scene in the Prisoner of Azkaban. A creature in a box popped out and turned into the person’s greatest fear. Then, the person had to use a spell to turn the fear into a funny image. Have your child make up a new version of the nightmare that has a funny scenario. Click on the link below to view the scene from the movie:
4. Relaxation. Apps for the I-PAP/ I-POD. I discovered a cool app to use with kids, even adults! It is called Relax Melodies. You pick the sounds and create your own relaxing music. I particularly love the “campfire” and “rainstorm” sounds. You have 50 to choose from. Icy snow, afternoon, seaside, frogs, cavern, and butterfly are some choices. I play this app in our group while they are completing an activity and they enjoy choosing the sounds. It is a great way to fall asleep as you pretend to be listening to the ocean. The link to the free app is listed below:
5. Reassure your child that he or she is safe. My own kids have night lights and my daughter even has a pillow that lights up, then shuts off after a certain amount of time.
6. Teach your child that a little fear can be helpful/ too much fear can be hurtful. For example, a little fear will help you practice more for a piano recital because you fear of playing the wrong notes. I explained fear to our support group by having each child write a fear on a bug. We talked about how having a large amount of fear can make you feel “stuck.” It might feel like you are stuck in a spider web. You can’t move or think. You feel frozen with fear. We then placed our bugs onto a big spider web. As a conclusion, the group discussed what it means to be “brave” and ways they have been brave for themselves or for someone else. When you act brave, you will never feel trapped in a web.