Helping Preschoolers with Fear

comforting fearful child

Sometimes I am afraid. How many times have you heard preschoolers express fears? It may be about something that seems small: “I am afraid to climb to the top of the slide,” or “I am afraid of spiders.” Other times it may be about something big: “I am afraid when Mommy and Daddy yell” or “Mommy died. What if Daddy dies, too?” How can we help our preschoolers move beyond fear and stress and help them learn to live in joy and peace?

At a recent conference, I was intrigued by the thoughts of a panel of experts who spoke about helping children develop resilience by teaching them to move from a place of fear to a place of calm. As one speaker shared that children innately know that we are not created to hold to thoughts that keep us locked in a place of bitterness and fear, I thought of Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 1:7: “For God gave us a spirit not of fear, but of power and love and self-control” (ESV1).

Use the following suggestions to help ease your preschoolers’ fears and stress:

  1. Actively listen to your preschooler’s fears without judgment. Even if the fears seem irrational to you, they are creating stress in this child’s life.
  2. Help your preschooler label what is making him afraid. As you listen, ask questions, such as “What would happen if . . . And, then what would happen next? And next?” Frequently as preschoolers think through and speak about their fears, their anxieties are diminished.
  3. Lead your preschooler to identify who his helpers are. “If that happened, who could help you?” For example, if she gets lost in a store, she can look for a security officer or person with a name tag who can call her family member over the PA system.
  4. Help your preschooler make a plan. If he is afraid of spiders, what will he do when he sees a spider? Having a plan will give him a sense of control over the situation.
  5. Allow your preschooler to play out the situation that frightens him. If a preschooler fears going to the dentist, talk to him about what will happen at the dentist’s office. Talk about how we brush our teeth and floss. If possible, help him role-play the situation with a doll or stuffed animal.
  6. Help your preschooler to think of ways to soothe herself. She can breathe in and out deeply for 5 breaths. She can give herself a big hug. Or, perhaps she has a favorite blanket or toy that she can hold.
  7. Guide your preschooler to pray, asking God to help him with his fear. Remind him that he is never alone because God is always with him. Help him to remember that God protects us and helps us when we are afraid.
  8. Use our resource Sometimes I Am Afraid to open conversations with preschoolers about their fears.

As you talk to your preschoolers about their fears, never minimize their feelings. Help them to understand that everyone feels fear sometimes, but that God doesn’t want us to be fearful. He wants us to trust in Him and to remember that He is with us in every situation. He wants us to live lives filled with joy and love. Hmm, that sounds like a lesson we adults could learn, too!

1Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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