There are four steps parents can take to help their children manage fear.
1 – Name it to tame it
Giving children the language of emotions is just as important as teaching them their A,B,C’s. Notice when a child is exhibiting behaviors synonymous with common emotions, and give them simple language to quantify what they are feeling. This is easily accomplished by the adult admitting freely to when strong emotion arises in them and articulating that clearly with their children. “I feel afraid and excited when I am on a rollercoaster” and “I feel frustrated when I lose my keys” are two examples right from my own family experience. Through my own admission of strong emotion, the children felt empowered to share their own noticing without judgment. Strong emotions are felt by all humans of all ages. Children need to know that they are not alone and that they can express with words how they are feeling as part of processing the experience.
2 – Where does the emotion live physically?
Ask your child to scan their bodies for the strong emotion. What do they notice in their stomach? Do they notice anything in their chest? What are their hands doing? The body is a powerful anchor into the present moment. This knowledge offers a skillful distraction from the mind’s story of why we are afraid of what is actually happening in the present moment with our physical experience.
3 – Breathe into the area of strong physical sensation
Return to mindful breathing, paying special attention to the physical area where fear lives. It is especially helpful for small children to place a hand on the area where fear lives. For example, place a hand on the stomach they breathe in and breathe out.
4 – Check-in
After you and your child complete steps 1, 2, and 3, it is important that you check in with any shifts or changes that have occurred. Allow the child to articulate what they were feeling, what they did or what action they took, and what they notice after. Children will begin to notice that certain behaviors serve their resilience and happiness, like mindful breathing, while other behaviors increase anger, sadness, and stress, like acting out of aggression. Believe in the inherent wisdom of your child to do what is kind and true, practice the above steps, and watch how fast your child’s emotional development thrives.