We adults forget what it is like to be a child. Children have many misconceptions and fears. It is important to understand that children’s difficulties in coping with life are real and need to be dealt with in an encouraging way.
A parent wrote to me stating how she was able to help her three year old child who was fearful of going to nursery school. She very carefully listened to her child and discovered that the child’s real fear was that her mother would go to work and forget where she was. When the mother reassured her that she was not going to work, the child was able to relax and enjoy school.
This same child became fearful about moving into another house. She did not want to leave the house she was born in and knew very well. This too can be a traumatic experience for a child especially if she has heard snatches of adult conversation, and misunderstands why the move is being made. It is important for adults to explain to children ahead of time when changes are being made.
In this little girl’s case, she could be helped to understand why the family is moving and that her parents’ are doing everything in the child’s best interest. If the move is for financial reasons, the child should be helped to feel secure in the knowledge that the adults are making a sound decision after careful deliberation, and that she does not have to worry about it because they are in control and are acting responsibly. At the same time, her parents can respond to the emotion and feeling of loss expressed by the child. It is not helpful to tell the child she is acting foolishly and there is nothing to worry about. The fact of the matter is she is unhappy and telling her not to be unhappy does not change that. The best thing parents can do in this case is to encourage the child to talk about how she feels and respond to the emotion and keep the communication open. Sometimes parents do not want to hear about the child’s fear because they are also fearful. They might want to work out between themselves what to say so that the child can feel more secure and understood.
Adults sometimes forget that children are very concrete thinkers, and that their sense of time is the same as adults. Also, some children have vivid imaginations and they tend to worry about everything. There are some children who can only function when the routine is the same every day. They do not do well when the routine changes and can become very stressed when this happens. It is important for adults to understand the children in their care and act accordingly.
If you are going to pick a child up at a certain time and place, be very specific, and above all, be on time. As far as the child knows you have forgotten where he is or, even worse, he may conclude that he has made a mistake and is in the wrong place, never to be found or united with his family again. This scenario can occur even when the parent is only a few minutes off schedule.
Adults cannot eliminate all the fears of childhood. They can make it easier for children, however, by anticipating what some of those fears may be and helping the child deal with them. They can also arrange their lives in such a way so that they do not unnecessarily add to these fears. Above all, it is important that adults not minimize the fears of children but listen to them and try to understand and sympathize.