How to Help a Child Overcome Fears

My daughter is 7 years old. She went to a Halloween party where they showed Michael Jackson’s Thriller.  I had not arrived to intervene and my husband did not see any potential issues.  Well, when I arrived she came to me crying and scared from watching the transformation of Michael Jackson from a human to a werewolf.  It’s February now and it still haunts her. More in general scared than werewolves now but she does not want to be alone even when going to the bathroom.  She’s fine as long as we’re together.  At night it’s worse.  She wants the curtains closed when it gets dark.  She thinks someone scary or a monster is hiding under the bed, in the closet, etc..  Even with co-sleeping she is still often afraid and says it’s sometimes hard to sleep because she’s afraid.  Luckily she still has mostly good dreams, only a couple of scary dreams since this happened. I have tried to help her but nothing seems to work.  She knows these things are not real logically but it seems her imagination get the best of her.  Can you help?  She has done this with other movies such as Scooby Doo and ET but seemed to recover much more quickly.  We also have issues when she might catch a scary commercial when her dad is watching sports so he’s trying to be more careful.  I know you will suggest to give up TV but I’ve discussed with my husband before and he does not agree. I also found it interesting that most kids there did not seem to be affected.

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Dear parent,

The more you let your child express herself, the more she will move on and heal herself. Accept her need to be with you all the time so the anxiety is not triggered. Ask questions that will help her get the fear out of her system, like what she is most afraid of, what is she imagining, what could happen, etc. Don’t expect quick return to fearlessness. She must take her time in her own way (could be months.) She needs to convince herself that there is nothing to fear. You can reassure her that there is no danger, but mostly listen to her and respond to her need to be with you.

You say that “most kids there did not seem to be affected,” and I want to point to the fact that you cannot know that. Children often don’t show their anxiety until they are in their own home with their parents, or even a couple of days later. Some don’t express themselves, but they are still affected. 

Many children are scared by media images and sounds and it is hard to predict what is going to be most frightening for each child. I recall my youngest seeing an old classic we didn’t think would be a problem. At night he told me that he was haunted by one scene. From then on, we took extra care with the kind of media and stories we introduced to this particular child. In addition, if children are less sensitive to such images it is not necessarily a good thing. We want to protect the child’s sensitivity and emotional integrity.

From your question I am not sure if you would like to raise your daughter without TV, or if you agree with your husband and want to keep it. Obviously, your opinion counts. If you see the TV as creating difficulties for your daughter then it is your duty to make the environment peaceful and nurturing for her. It is not up to one parent to veto the other; it is an aggressive way of making decisions, based on domination rather than on respect and care for the child. 

If this is not an issue, then let it be and respond to your daughter emotions as they arise. However, if you wish to eliminate TV from your child’s daily experience then do that. You are her mother. I suggest that both you and your husband read equally about the impact of the screen on the young mind and come to an informed decision you can both live with happily and which focuses on what is best for your daughter.  

Warmly,  Naomi Aldort, www.AuthenticParent.com