How to Calm a Fearful Child

How do you help an 11-year-old who is constantly afraid in his/her own home? The child is afraid that someone is hiding and going to hurt them. S/he also has recurring scary dreams and imagines that someone is always in the house.

--A Parent Soup member

Robert Schwebel

Clinical psychologist Robert Schwebel, PhD, has been in private practice for almost 30 years, counseling children, couples and... Read more

First I want to reassure you: Fears are a normal part of childhood. If we reassure children about their safety, most children simply outgrow their fears. Fear of intruders and burglars is not unusual in an 11-year-old. By this age, you can ask the child to identify exactly what the fear is, such as, where does s/he think the intruder is hiding or how would the intruder get in? Do not discount or belittle the child's fear, but be reassuring (to the extent it is true) about living in a safe neighborhood, locking the doors and adults being in the house. If you feel safe, explain why. Let your child explore the home to discover that it is safe. If s/he wants a door open or closed, you can allow that. If s/he wants a light on, that is fine too. This gives the child a chance to feel some power over the environment and will reduce his/her fear.

Then, think about three other things:

1. Television and movie-viewing habits: A huge amount of fear can be stimulated by these media. Consider what your child may be watching.

2. Is your child fearful in other situations? If so, how can you bolster a sense of empowerment in general?

3. Is there tension at home (parental conflict, etc.)? Could this be why fears are experienced there?

Finally, if the fears occur at bedtime, I suggest a nice, relaxing bedtime ritual.

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