How To Help Your Child With Their Fears and Phobias


If you’re a parent worried that your child’s fears or phobias are negatively impacting their day-to-day mental wellbeing and you want to do something about it, this article is for you. 

Children often face fears and phobias, which can range from common anxieties such as animals, the dark, and heights to more specific fears like clowns, blood, or being sick. In fact, very few of us make it through childhood without any fears. For example, I used to drag my Mum by the hand across the street as soon as I spotted a big dog coming towards us.

But if these kinds of fears are starting to disrupt your child’s sleep, give them extreme nightmares, or cause them daily and debilitating distress, then they could be seriously impacting their mental health. Any fright that is persistent, intense, and causing your child great unhappiness is, of course, something that you want to help them cope with.

In this article, we’ll talk through some ways that you, as a Mum or Dad, can proactively support your child and guide them towards hopefully overcoming, or at the very least coping with, their fears.

#1: Talk about it

First things first, you need to talk to your child about what’s scaring them. This might seem a little obvious, but I can’t stress enough how important it is to create an open and safe space in which your child can express their fears.

Be mindful not to interrogate them, though. You could try chatting to them about it while doing something else, like making a jigsaw puzzle or doing some gardening, so that your child feels less put on the spot. Instead of directly saying “I want to talk to you about your fear of dogs”, you could say something more indirect and open, like “Have you ever heard a dog bark really loudly?” and then progress to “Did it make you feel frightened?”. While you’re listening sympathetically to them, try to figure out where their fear is coming from. Has a specific personal experience triggered it? Or is it a case of the unknown causing them uncertainty? Getting to the root of their fear is an important first step.


#2: Use popular culture as a conversation starter

If you’re struggling to organically kickstart this conversation, you could look to popular culture as a brilliant conversation starter. Plenty of books and movies depict young characters confronting or even overcoming their fears. You can use these as an excellent tool for initiating discussions with your child about their own fears.

By watching or reading about fictional characters facing similar frightening challenges, your child may feel less alone in how they’re feeling and more aware of their power to confront their fear. You’ll want to choose examples that are both age-appropriate and align with your child’s personal interests. So, don’t make them sit through a film that they hate just to make a point - this certainly won’t encourage very productive conversations.

For instance, if they’re a little older and mad about Harry Potter, you could watch the ‘Prisoner of Azkaban’ scene in which Professor Lupin encourages his students to confront their darkest fears by facing the magical Boggart creature. Although perhaps a little whimsical, this kind of magical depiction of coping with fears is the kind of thing that could open a conversation with your child about their own anxieties.

Or if they’re younger, a picture book like Judith Henderson’s ‘AAAlligator!’ will provide a great example for your child of being resilient when facing fears.

#3: Don’t shame them for their fears

As your child hopefully starts to open up about their fears to you, it’s important that you don’t shame or ridicule them for being frightened. Even if you’re just laughing with your partner about how terrified they are of cats, this will come across to them as if you’re dismissing their fear.

Especially if your child is older, this will likely make them feel ashamed of feeling scared, and they’ll be much less likely to open up to you about how they’re feeling. So any comments like “that’s a silly thing to be frightened of” or “don’t be a baby” are absolutely to be avoided. Teenagers, particularly, might already feel embarrassed that they’re still scared of something they were scared of when they were little. So they’ll definitely feel even worse if there’s any hint that you are amused by their anxieties. It’s essential to only show empathy and support when your child expresses their fears.

#4: Be honest about your own fears. But don’t overdo it

One way you can ensure that your child doesn’t feel so ashamed of their fears is to be honest about your own fears. Knowing that even you are frightened of some things might help your child to feel more inclined to share their anxieties with you. If you never show your child that even adults experience lapses in bravery too, they’ll feel much more reluctant to admit that they get frightened by something in particular.

But it’s also important to strike a balance between honesty - and actively projecting your own fears onto your child. Try not to excessively communicate your anxieties to your child as this might have the opposite effect.

In The Horizon Plan, our free course for parents supporting a child’s mental health journey, Claire Sutton says that “there’s an invisible, energetic chord between parent and child”. This means that “what they feel, you feel, and what you feel, they feel” so it’s important to remember that your own anxiety and fear can also pull your child into feeling more frightened themselves. If you have any particularly debilitating fears yourself, it may well be worth looking into working on them as this could actually help your child too.


#5: Make sure they know the facts. But don’t be dismissive

A lot of children’s fears and phobias come from the ‘unknown’. For example, the common fear of the elusive monster under the bed stems from children not being able to be sure there’s nothing hiding in the darkness.

If their fear is something like this, which you can give them some information to counter, then you could certainly try that. If they’re scared of the dark, for example, you can talk to them about how just because you can’t see at night, it doesn’t mean that there’s anything scary there.

You can also reassure them that they’re in a safe environment. For example, if they have a fear of the house being broken into, you can remind them that the house is secure and that this is very unlikely.

But it’s important to pick your moments with these kinds of rational and logical facts. If they’re already panicking, then it’s probably too late, and you’d be better off working on regulating their feelings of panic. If you’re too forceful with the ‘facts’ like “there’s no way there’s a monster under your bed because I’ve checked” when they’re already very distressed, then they’ll likely feel like you’re not taking them seriously, and this could make them feel worse.


#6: Don’t rely on avoidance

It’s very challenging to watch your child struggle with extreme feelings of terror and not instantly intervene. Your knee-jerk reaction is probably to do whatever it takes in that moment to protect them and relieve the panic. For example, if they’re afraid of the dark, maybe you’ve gotten used to just turning on the lights. But in the long run, consistently allowing them to totally avoid their fears might leave them unable to cope alone.

Obviously, sometimes immediate solutions like this are necessary, especially if they’re extremely distressed. But if it feels at all possible, a gentle move towards exposing them little by little will help them to feel more able to cope when faced with their fear.

Carefully considered exposure is a really effective way to start helping your child. The key is to start really small. And I mean even smaller than you’re thinking. For example, if they’re frightened of dogs, you can start by reading them a book that has a canine character in it. You might consider talking to a professional about this, as they’d have a good idea about how small each ‘dose’ of exposure should be. Gently guiding them, though, will certainly be more effective than overprotecting them as soon as any fears crop up.


Hopefully, this article has given you some helpful tips for how to start supporting your child with their fears. If you feel like their fears are making them very anxious or seriously impacting their mental health, then it’s so important that you start to find ways to help them work through this. If things are really difficult, it's important to seek the help of a mental health professional to allow your child to work through their fears, phobias, and anxieties.

If you’d like some more in-depth guidance on how you can support your child at home with their mental or emotional health, check out our free online course The Horizon Plan.


For more support and practical advice for you as parents while you support your child or teen, CLICK HERE for the Horizon Plan, our free online course. 


The Youth Mental Health Foundation CIC is a non-profit with a free online course for parents supporting a young person struggling with mental health. Find out more by CLICKING HERE


 Written and illustrated by Asha Sullivan


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