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There are many things in a child's everyday life, though innocuous to you that can cause debilating fear in a child. Sounds such as the barking of a dog, the wis of a blender, flushing of a toilet, the whistle of a pressure cooker, etc. As the child grows older, his imagination and curiosity develop side by side. He learns

the potential dangers of certain actions and objects and the reason why it is so. This awareness makes him cautious and sometimes frightened.

It has been observed that parents who are too over protective or children for whom toilet training or feeding is an issue, are more prone to have fears. Probably all children have certain fears at some point of time, though they overcome them before these fears are even observed by their parents. Most of these early fears start fading spontaneously, as your child gradually understands that noises imply no real danger. It is very necessary for a parent to understand and help his child deal with his fears. The following suggestions must be kept in mind :


Never force your child : Everything has it's time, give your child time. Your child's phobia may seem irrational to you, but very legitimate to him. He needs to wait and confront it on his own terms and in his own time when he feels safe.


Never ridicule your child : Everybody goes through this phase, you too as a child must have had your share of phobias. Be compassionate. Making fun of your child, calling him silly or laughing at him will deter his self-confidence and his ability to deal with his fears. Take his fears seriously.


Sympathize with your child : By accepting your child's fears as real and comforting him, you will reduce his burden and help him cope with his fears. If he cries when you flush the toilet or when you switch off the room light, be quick to pick him up and give him a big reassuring hug.


Reassure and build your child's confidence : As a parent you must sympathize with his fears, but your ultimate goal is to help him overcome them.

Types of Fears

Fear of the dark : The lack of the ability to see clearly acts as a span to the imagination, leading most people to imagine that somebody is creeping up on them. If your child is scared of the dark, keep a night lamp on.


Tangible fears : Sometimes children develop fear of tangible things like dogs, cockroaches, water, etc.


Stranger anxiety : Unfamiliar faces may make your child feel insecure and he may start crying. The sudden presence of a stranger may be the cause of his anxiety. You can minimize this fear by making him sit on your lap, facing outward and talking to the person in an upbeat and cheerful tone.


Fears of being separated from the mother : With growing perception also comes hordes of fear, being separated from a mother leads to anxiety. Each child differs in intensity and frequency of fear stemming from separation. The intensity and quality of their attachment to their mother affects their level of fear.


Past History

Akash, a five year old boy was brought to the child guidance clinic by his mother. She stated that her child walked in his sleep on an average of once or twice a week. She also complained of his restlessness in bed and waking up very late in the mornings. Akash's sleepwalking episodes were associated with nightmares, perspiring and talking in his sleep.

Past history revealed that his milestones were delayed and he had a poor appetite. He was afraid to go into a dark room, feared horror movies and was scared of cockroaches. He salivated while sleeping.

On questioning Akash, it was revealed that when he went to bed, many a times he woke up frightened and complained of having seen a frightful dream of being chased by a "big black dog". In his dream, Akash thought that the dog would bite him and he would be without legs, if it caught him. After this dream, Akash would perspire, moan and talk in his sleep. He would toss and turn and finally get up and walk through the house.

Assessment data revealed neurological or medical problems and indicated that Akash was of normal intelligence. However he was found to be a very anxious, guilt ridden little boy, who avoided performing assertive and aggressive behaviours appropriate of his age and sex.

The therapist focused treatment on having Akash's mother awaken the boy each time he showed signs of an impending frightful dream. Washing his face with cold water and making sure he was fully awake, the mother would return him to bed where he was to hit and tear up a picture of the "big black dog". Akash was to make several of these drawings, as part of his hobby, in the art class.

Rational emotive therapy was taught to Akash, where he was shown his irrationality in his thinking patterns. No dog could bite him to that extent where he would have to lose his legs. It was only a dream. The mother was asked to leave the light on for a few days and every time Akash entered a dark room, he was rewarded and reassured with positive reinforcement.

Slowly, it was explained to him that if he still felt afraid, he would have to switch on and off the light himself. Because the situation is under the child's control, there will be no call for panic reactions. As a consequence, Akash felt comfort in sleeping continuously, rather than getting up to switch off the light and switch it on again. Here the therapist tried to create a contest of will, where you have defeated your original purpose of enlisting the child's own energies on the socialization process. Another way of achieving the same objective would be to use a lamp that can be placed on the floor and moved progressively by discernible steps out of the room, a little further each night.

In the following sessions it was noticed that Akash became more confident and less dependent. He was made aware of the fact that to get rid of his fear he would have to face that fear and come to terms with his irrationality, in his thinking pattern. He was also taught to do deep breathing exercises for relaxation. He was made to recline on a couch and intentionally contract and relax various muscles of the body in a systematic fashion. In this way, the subject gets the feeling of each state and gradually acquires voluntary control over his muscles, so that he can relax the entire body at will. When the body is completely relaxed, tension disappears and the subject finds it easier to go to sleep.



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