How to avoid passing your fears on to your child

Chances are, if you are a parent with a fear of something, will be worried about passing that phobia onto your child.

According to Sarah Bick, a clinical hypnotherapist, fears and phobias are often used interchangeably, but there is a difference.

‘A fear is an instinctual response to a threat, perceived or real, triggered in our brains amygdala and is a useful survival response to help us mobilise energy to avoid danger,’ Sarah tells Metro.co.uk. ‘It’s an emotion we feel whenever we feel unsafe, and it’s purpose is to protect us.’

A phobia on the other hand, says Sarah, ‘is an excessive and overwhelming fear response to something, even if the perceived danger is not actually present’.

‘They are a type of anxiety disorder that can induce intense fear responses from even thinking about the phobia,’ she continues. ‘Phobias are often referred to as irrational fears because they can be anything from flying, a colour, or something as harmless as a button.’

Sarah goes on to tell us: ‘We are born with only two fears. The fear of being dropped and the fear of loud noises – all the rest are learned.’

It’s no wonder then, that if, as a parent, you feel fearful every time your child climbs up the really high climbing frame at the park or goes very high on the swing, you might be inclined to constantly shout ‘be careful’ or ‘watch out’.

However, Dennis Relojo-Howell, founder of psychology website, Psychreg, warns that we should pay attention to the language that we use around our children.

‘Saying phrases like those all the time can instil fear,’ he explains. ‘Studies have indicated that enforcing too many restrictions on children’s outdoor risky play hinders their development.

‘So, instead of saying “be careful”, try asking “what are you going to do?” – this gives your child the opportunity to problem-solve and assess the risks themselves.’

Being a parent means being a positive role model. But if we have phobias and fears, we can easily pass these onto our children without meaning to, as they sense how we are feeling.

‘As if by osmosis, children are influenced by their parents and primary carers attitudes and thoughts, including anxiety and phobias,’ senior therapist Sally Baker explains.

‘So, the best way not to create similar fears in the next generation is to resolve and release old fears and phobias.’

That makes total sense… but how can we do it?

‘There are effective self-help tools, such as the ones available on subscription from Orpheus Mind Technologies, that will quickly, in just over ten minutes, reduce and eliminate negative emotions, including phobias,’ says Sally.

‘Tackling fears and phobias within a therapeutic session such as CBT, can dig deeper and resolve any trauma attached to the initial event, which can be at the core of the issue.

‘Once the issue has been cleared and is no longer triggering, hypnotherapy can be used to support and replace old fears with calmer, more confident thoughts.’

Sometimes though, our children form their fears and phobias from other places.

Sarah says: ‘Phobias usually begin as an adverse moment in childhood that leaves a deep impression, often associated with a feeling of no control.

‘It then spirals into avoidance of the fear and then avoidance of the unpleasant feelings a body feels about the fear.’

Aside from recommended therapeutic routes, such as CBT, Sarah suggests parents try these supportive strategies at home, to help their child overcome any fears that develop…

Listen

Encouraging your child to tell their own story of when they first remember feeling that fear, can be both validating and informative.

Help them find the words by asking specific questions. For example, ‘what makes buttons scary?’ or ‘did the buttons scratch and surprise you?’

You might find a belief behind it all, such as ‘all buttons hurt me’, which can then be talked through or played into a game to become ‘a button hurt me in the past, but these buttons are ok, they are not scary, they are not touching me”’ That can then become, ‘these buttons are so fun, they have smiley faces on, I get a treat when these buttons are shown to me’.

Listening is the first step of information gathering and validating the feelings of the child.

Validate

A child’s fear – no matter how irrational it might seem to you – makes perfect sense to them, and is not ‘silly’, but perceived survival.

Validating their feelings after listening lets them know that you understand and take their feelings seriously.

Then, swiftly move on to making a plan to help empower your child and work towards feeling relaxed and brave.

Move the body

Try making a game of ‘shaking off the worry’, wobbling the body like jelly, stamping on the fear. This will help release the tension in the body.

Inform

Fill in the gaps. For example, ‘spiders do many wonderful things, yes they may run fast which can be scary, but they are running to hide because they are scared’.

Stay calm

Be a calm presence for them to mirror. See if you can notice your own body sensations and thoughts when you are dealing with your child’s issue – maybe there are fears that you need to work on too?

Tell stories

Stories are a really powerful way to help children visualise themselves overcoming obstacles and doing extraordinary things.

Use storytelling to rework the associations to the fear towards feelgood or funny pictures, so they can make new connections and feelings to neutralise the initial fear.

Take small steps

Breakdown the steps of conquering the fear into tiny steps, moving forward gradually, with each step building more confidence, more fun and more exposure.

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