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If it exists, somehow, somewhere, there is a child who’s afraid of it. There are conditions such as arachnophobia (I find it best never to trust anything with 8 legs); claustrophobia (a fear of small spaces, but only because my brother had me climb into that milk crate and then sat on it for an hour while ignoring my cries of terror and desperation); or cibophobia (fear of food, which I can understand only if your parents fed you brussels sprouts daily). Somewhere there probably exists a term for people who are afraid of being afraid.

Some of these fears are rather common and quite typical of childhood. Many kids are afraid of people in masks (honestly, who can blame them). A fear of mascots also consumes many youngsters. (Seriously, you want me to sit on the lap of an 8 foot tall bunny that smells like Cheetos and beer? And I thought you loved me!) Then there’s clowns. What twisted soul came up with the idea of clowns. I’d like to know who it was that was sitting down one day and thought, “I know, I’ll paint my face white like a dead person. Then I’ll add a huge red nose that shrieks an annoying sound, and use makeup to create a twisted, distorted, unchanging facial expression, as if the old parental warning were true that after one too many goofs my face actually did get stuck that way. I’ll put on the most ridiculous clothes that only MC Hammer would love, a wig to match, and a pair of shoes that look like they’re hiding a small troll. Then I’ll walk up to strange children and eye them suspiciously, perhaps waving and poking at them, as if to see if they’re yet ripe enough to eat. They’ll love it!” Are you kidding me? Kids remember all those twisted fairy tales we read them. They heard about the witches and goblins looking for kids to cook in a giant pot of toddler stew. They know what’s up.

It’s not just the usual fears of monsters and spiders and mascots that can trouble kids. Children are sometimes stricken with fears that can leave parents scratching their head. A child might come to fear cute, fluffy bunnies because of something as obscure as the way they twitch their noses. (And have you seen the teeth on those things? A child may worry their fingers look a little too much like tiny, tasty carrots that can be gnawed off in a single chomp.) Or you might have the oddball in the bunch who fears butterflies.

Since fears arise from a combination of innate tendencies and past experiences, each of us carry our own set of phobias, some more extreme than others. My personal fears happen to be clowns, spiders, clowns, people who wear socks with sandals, clowns and mother at 6:30 a.m. before makeup and coffee. (Seriously, it’s like the zombie apocalypse.) Your fears, however, are likely different from mine. Children, too, being the wonderful little snowflakes they are, experience a unique neurosis all their own. It’s normal for kids to come down with various fears throughout their childhood. Some persist, others vanish as suddenly as they came.

Some of these fears are kind of cute and rather hilarious. Others can be downright disruptive. Dealing with a child’s fears can be exhausting, especially when out of nowhere, your kid inexplicably breaks out in tears and starts screaming when you didn’t even beat them. Try having a picnic with a child who shrieks in terror anytime a bug comes within 5 feet of them. Then there’s that time-honored classic that most all parents can relate to: explaining to your child for the fifth night in a row why monsters are make-believe and don’t live under your bed; but if you keep this up for much longer, your groggy and sleep-deprived mother may just morph into something like the incredible hulk, which is much scarier than any closet troll, so for heaven’s sake will you just go to sleep already!

In these situations it might be tempting to send your child back for a replacement model that works better. But alas, it seems our government doesn’t do that. (Trust me, the people at the post office will look at you like you’re crazier than you actually are.) You could go for the tough-love method some of your parents or grandparents might have employed: Lock the kids in the closet with a dozen snakes or spiders until they learn to all get along. But then again, that might be one of the reasons some of us are a little bit looney today. Aside from that, many parents run out of ideas.

The good news is that there are a variety of things you can do to help your phobic child overcome their fears. There are some universal tips to help your child deal with their fears:

1. Never belittle a child’s fears

2. Don’t play into a child’s anxiety

3. Don’t ridicule, coerce, punish or ignore

Fears can sometimes be expressed by behavioral problems or moodiness. Not all kids will tell you “this scares me.” Younger kids may be incapable of expressing their thoughts and fears. Keep this in mind as you deal with them.

Older kids may try to disguise their fears because they’re ashamed or think that others will ridicule them. They may make excuses to avoid doing something or avoid a situation without telling you the real reason why. Adults need to respond tactfully and without ridicule, and provide a trusted outlet where a child can speak his emotions.

Many parents think forcing a child to confront their fears head-on, a sort of sink or swim technique for phobias, will help. However, this almost always backfires, and is more likely to intensify their fear than cure them of it.

Use matter-of-fact words to offer comfort, but understand that your child may have trouble hearing or believing what you’re telling them. Childhood fears generally aren’t rational, so they tend to be resistant to even the best reasoning. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try offering reassurances; quite the contrary. It means that you need to patiently administer these reassurances over and over again and not get frustrated when they don’t immediately put your child at ease.

Work in humor whenever possible. The more fun you can have with something, the more it will reduce anxiety. Try to find ways to create humor around your child’s feared object.

You can teach children to manage their anxieties by modeling healthy ways of dealing with fear, such as taking deep breaths, repeating a phrase in their mind that helps calm them, or to think of something funny

If a child’s phobia remains severe, you may want to consider professional help. The most common treatment for fears is exposure therapy, which builds up a child’s immunity to the fear-provoking stimulus by gradually exposing them to their fear-inducing object in a safe and manageable situation. However, most children grow out of their fears with time, and therapy is only necessary if a fear is impeding a child’s day-to-day functioning.

So hang in there. Maybe your kids will be less afraid of spiders than you are!

For more  information on how to help children deal with specific childhood fears visit

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