Does Your Child Feel Safe?

We’ve seen a lot from school-age children about feelings of fear on campus. I read this week that over 4 million children report that they feel unsafe at home according to a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Children in states with larger cities report being fearful at home at almost five time the rate of states with smaller cities. Children of color report fear at two and three times the rate of white children.


What is going on with our children? They may be getting their cues from their parents, according to parenting expert Dr. Charles Fay from Love and Logic, Inc. Dr. Fay told of parents who discovered that their child’s fears about life – including fear of the wind and going outside—were being fed by their own anxiety about his fears.


Parents who rush to the side of a fearful child to focus on comforting and reassuring them may be sending the wrong message. Looking under the bed for monsters helps a child believe there actually might be monsters under the bed, for instance. Getting on your knees and stroking the forehead of your child in an effort to reassure them may also feed their fears.


This is not to say that ignoring your child’s fears will make them go away either. When a child expresses fear, the last thing you want to do is dismiss it without comment.


Dr. Fay suggests reacting like an adult rather than a fearful peer. Don’t reflect their fear in your own reaction. Being calm yourself sends a better message than loads of attention and reassurance. Being more business-like in your reactions communicates calm better than stopping everything and fretting with your child. I think of parents who run around the house scared to death of storms and wonder how their children will learn to simply listen to weather reports or look at the radar with calm confidence. Getting information and taking appropriate action is the adult way to respond to severe weather threats.


Dr. Fay encourages parents to help their children face their fears rather than give in to them. The child who feared the wind was taken to the park to sip on hot chocolate – in the wind—with his parents. Fear doesn’t go away when we allow our children to avoid the things they fear. Keeping him home from school because there might be bullies at school teaches your son that bullies can’t be overcome, they can only be avoided.


Refusing to give in to fear involves reflecting your confidence in their abilities. When you believe your child has what it takes to meet the challenges of life, he might just begin believing it too. I liked Dr. Fay’s one-liner for meeting the fears of a child head on. When a child says, “I can’t,” to a task they fear, try saying, “Aren’t you glad I don’t believe that?” Walk through the fear with your child. Don’t accept or avoid it.

Dr. Matt Crain writes weekly for the Sunday newspaper from his Connecting Fathers and Families ministry.