Fear can affect us all in different ways. To be afraid of something that we perceive to be dangerous, painful, or harmful to us is a completely natural occurrence. Children with special needs are no exception to this. As youngsters explore the world around them, they encounter new experiences and brave new challenges. As a result, anxiety becomes an inescapable factor of growing up.
Common fears in children with special needs typically arise around eating, sleeping, going out, or circumstances that trigger sensory peeves. Night tremors, a fear of choking, cringing from the sensation of particular fabrics against their skin, anger after being startled by loud noises, or the terror of meeting new people, are all anxieties that a lot of children face.
As well as the tell-tale physical signs of apprehension; heightened breath, sweaty palms, and becoming dizzy, a change in behaviour is usually a good indicator too. Disruptive outbursts, meltdowns, and point blank refusals are all signs that something is not ok.
While as parents, we want to protect our little ones and make things as easy for them as possible, this is actually hindering behaviour that will do more harm than good to your child's personal development. When a child learns to avoid difficulty, they miss out on developing the strength to rise to the occasion and learn from the situation. As they progress through their lives, they won't be able to move past their fears because they learnt that avoidance was the best coping strategy. Instead, by using the right attitude, language, and supportive tactics, we can help guide them through anxiety and common fears, giving them the confidence to overcome their hurdles.
A good place to start working with your children towards positive change is to identify their concerns. Raising awareness to your child about the fact they are anxious is so important, as they may find it difficult to recognise that they are nervous. Parents find this especially prominent in children with Autism. Picking up on triggers before they happen can be useful to introduce helpful alternatives to extreme reactions and explosive behaviours.
The language that we use with children with special needs surrounding fear is essential as the wrong words can cause the adverse effect. For example telling your child how they feel “you look worried” can cause defensiveness or take away the opportunity for them to express themselves. Instead try asking them open ended and reflective questions, so that they can internalise and uncover the root of their discomfort; “I noticed that you didn’t want to brush your teeth again today, is there something about the flavour or the texture of the new toothpaste that makes you feel uncomfortable?”
By understanding the meaning behind certain reactions, you can set up a positive channel of communication between you and your child, leaving you free to help diminish fear. Once this dialogue opens them up to the fact that they are anxious, you can help them cope with their concerns.
Teaching your child to take deep breaths can be a great tool to helping them stay calm. Get them to breathe in for three seconds through their nose, hold it for three seconds, and then breathe out through their mouth. Once this is done, get them to do this two more times, each time encouraging them to count on their fingers and breathe as loudly as they feel comfortable. Doing it with them can show them that they are not alone and help them feel relaxed.
As well as taking calming breaths, and ensuring the language that we choose isn’t negative or placing pressure on the child, we need to make sure they talk to themselves the same way. “I can do this”, “I can handle this”, “I’ve done it before, I can do it again” can all provide positive reinforcements and break through any barriers that they place in front of themselves.
Which common fears do you find that your children face and how do you overcome them? We’d love to hear from you. Please enter your comments below to discuss.
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Traditionally, Guy Fawkes night is spent heading out to the local park dressed up as snug as a bug, braving the bitter cold and marvelling at the fireworks all while attempting to soak up the heat of the nearest bonfire. For parents of children with special needs, Bonfire Night can often bear some challenges.
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