Helping a Fearful Child

W. was an apprehensive and cautious four year old. He was often tentative when trying new things such as climbing a tall slide, sitting in the front row of a noisy children’s show, or riding the park merry-go-round. His parents spent a lot time explaining that activities that seemed scary could actually be fun and easy to do. Understandably they also sometimes lost their patience as W. hesitated, complained and asked for reassurance about seemingly simple things. Although W. gradually became more open to new ideas with their help his progress was slow.

W’s Mom was a self assured person but happened to be reluctant to walk on sidewalk subway grates after one of her heels had gotten stuck when she was in a rush. She had hurt her ankle badly in the experience and avoided them even in flat shoes, a habit that had become an unconscious routine.

W. was uncertain about many things but not subway grates!

One day as they were walking on the sidewalk Mom stepped out of the path of a grate and W. noticed as he skipped nimbly across. Suddenly there was the opportunity for W. to help his Mom with what seemed to him to be an unreasonable fear. Almost by accident W. offered to help his Mom cautiously walk on the grate. Taking her hand, he reassured her and explained that grates were nothing to be afraid of.

The “role reversal” was helpful to W. He now had a chance to pay back his Mom for all the times she had encouraged him. It was also a rare and wonderful opportunity to feel confident when his Mom was more tentative.

He bragged to his Dad about his accomplishment later in the day. They laughed about Mom’s fears and suddenly W. was not the only one in the family who needed support.

Mom realizing that this “shoe on the other foot” routine was helpful to W. often asked him to help her negotiate the grates and as she genuinely realized her wariness was unfounded W’s confidence and understanding about worries grew.

Most children don’t realize that their parents are sometimes scared or overwhelmed. It can be very useful for everyone to know.