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How to Overcome Fear

Here’s what you need to know to quash fright—in you and your brood.

By Jennifer Lindley
Illustration of child surrounded by phobiasDan Hipp1 of 3

 

Bravery 101

Correct misinformation. Often our fears are born of misunderstanding. “I love working with kids who are afraid of bees,” says Chansky, who is also the author of Freeing Your Child From Anxiety ($15, amazon.com). “We call out to a bee from the window, and the child learns that the bee doesn’t care about him—he cares about pollen.” Similarly, a youngster’s anxiety about the dentist can be assuaged by watching a (prescreened!) YouTube video of a dental exam, and you can reduce your own fear of flying by studying facts and figures. (Did you know that, statistically, you would have to fly every day for 63,000 years before you would die in a plane crash?)

Have a plan. “I dislike bugs a lot,” confesses Chansky. “But we live in the woods. So I keep yogurt containers around the house and use them to catch insects when they come in. Being prepared helps me stay calm.” If kids are around, Chansky suggests “bossing back” feared objects, saying, “I’m a lot bigger than you, Mr. Bug!” (This may help even if you’re alone—a little fake-it-till-you-make-it never hurts.) But what if you wind up screaming and jumping onto a chair? Don’t consider it defeat, says Chansky. Just take a deep breath and say to the kids (or yourself), “False alarm! I guess my worry brain took over!”

 

With scared kids, be sympathetic, not overly emotional… As a pediatrician, Roy Benaroch of Alpharetta, Georgia, has noticed that parents’ attitudes influence their children’s apprehension when it comes to shots. His advice: Don’t apologize (“I’m sorry we have to do this to you!”) or  overempathize (“I know! It hurts! It hurts!”). Rather, adopt a calm, loving tone and say, “It will be OK, and it will be over in a few minutes.” And remember: Kids can tell when a parent is white-knuckling his or her way through a situation. So if Dad has a problem with shots, Mom should chaperone inoculation day. If you must grin and bear it, try taking three deep breaths or counting backward from 10—or both—to ease your anxiety, says psychologist Dawn Huebner, the author of What to Do When You Worry Too Much ($16, amazon.com). “Relaxation methods work best when decided on and practiced ahead of time,” she says.

…And don’t encourage avoidance. If your child loses her cool around dogs, your instinct may be to hustle her across the street when you spot one. But resist that urge. Take it as an opportunity to demystify the source of her fears, Pincus advises. Say, “Look at that puppy! Should we go see if the owner will let us feel how soft his fur is?”

 
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