Parenting the Fearful Child

scared child

My 6th grader had just moved up to middle school youth group when we attended the August kick-off. As the students got ready to board vans for an afternoon of bowling, my son froze.

First, he claimed he’d forgotten his socks and couldn’t go. When we rummaged up socks, he started in with other excuses – his best friend wasn’t going (true), it was too expensive (I was paying), and he didn’t feel well (probably nervous jitters). I knew he was scared about the new situation, but it would only get harder. So, I connected him with some other 6th grade boys, gave him a firm side hug and headed for the parking lot.

While all kids experience fear, some are particularly cautious. These 6 insights will help when you’re parenting a scared child.

1. Listen to them.

It’s so important to listen to our children talk about their fears. As an adult, their fears may seem trite or unrealistic. But our kids need to know they can trust us when they feel most vulnerable. For children who seem particularly fearful, listening validates their emotion and is the first step to helping them meet their fear head-on. Plus, as you listen, you’ll discover helpful information like the extent of the fear and how it came about.

2. Assure them you’re on top of their safety.

After listening to our kids, it’s important to assure our children that we will always do everything we can to keep them safe. Remind them of safeguards you’ve put in place.

3. Discern between rational and irrational fear.

We can also distinguish between rational and irrational fears as we listen to our kids. An irrational fear is based on something unlikely to happen – think of the nightmare about going to school in your underwear or even the fear of spiders. A rational fear is based on an imminent danger. Most childhood fears are irrational.

4. Talk about your experience.

Assure your child that fears are normal. Share your own experiences with fear as you were growing up and how you overcame it. Maybe it was a fear of the dark or fear of going out for a competitive sport. What helped you overcome that fear? With my own kids, I’ve shared how I was thrown from a horse and made myself get back on and finish the ride.

5. Know when to push.

There is no bright line here. As a parent, you’ll need to be sensitive to your children and know when you can gently push them to face their fear. My son resisted going on a trip and I assumed he was nervous about the new situation. The kids were spending one day of the trip at an amusement park. Turns out, my son was actually scared of roller coasters and didn’t want kids to pressure him to ride. Skipping the roller coasters was fine but didn’t mean he should miss the whole trip. This was a good situation to arm him with ways to meet peer pressure while allowing him to pass on the roller coasters.

6.Walk with them through their fear.

We can help our children cope with their fear by walking it with them. {Tweet This} That same child had an early fear of water. Because we had a backyard pool, learning to swim wasn’t an option. Even the swimming instructor could barely get him underwater. One day I got in the pool with him. We went underwater together, again and again until he overcame his fear and realized swimming was actually fun. He’s been happily swimming ever since.

Your turn: Does your child have a fear right now you can help him navigate through?



    My son is massively afraid of sleeping in his room alone. He literally refused to leave my bedroom and was in tears. He’s had a few nightmares and has seen or been told about scary stories (Slenderman, etc) and ever since has refused to go into a dark room alone. He is 11 years old. I’d love to know how other parents have helped their kids overcome similar fears.

  • Jp

    My daughter was terrified of snakes in the covers and under the bed. She was two when this started. It was not until she was 6 or 7, and still dealing with this fear, that we talked one night as I lay in bed holding her. Thru gentle and non-threating questions, I learned that a step-grandparent, who was no longer in her life by this time, had told her his snakes would get her if she got out of bed. It was hard not to react because after this came out, I was capable of murder at that moment. Instead, I calmly explained to her that he was trying to scare and control her with the fear he was creating. I assured her there were no snakes and she was safe in her bed and our home. She was skeptical at first but obviously believed and trusted me because this fear begin to evaporate and was soon non-existent . He was not a nice person but even well-meaning people sometimes scare children. We need to be careful what we say to children and around them. We can be responsible for fears and not even be aware of it. Listening to children can take time – sometimes even years as it did in this case – but we need to be willing to take the time needed as we wait for the problem to reveal itself.